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On June 29th, I received a text from my oldest cousin asking if I was mad at our grandma. 

“Are you mad at grandma? She asked me because you didn’t call or text her for her birthday yesterday,” 

Shit! I forgot. I had just started a new job, and it was the beginning of an emotionally heavy summer. I was beginning to get overwhelmed. I adore my grandma. I always have. So, I called her right then and there. She did what most grandmas do, lay on the guilt about me not calling enough and sharing life updates. And I guilted her right back and reminded her that it’s been over a year since moving to the Northwest, and she hasn’t been up to visit me. There is a bakery within walking distance that I haven’t been to yet because I wanted to walk and share a treat with her when she did come. She told me I was right, and she will plan to stay in September of this year. 

Even though she had ten grandkids (I’m the first) and 12 great-grandkids – four of which are mine, my grandma didn’t ever forget birthdays. So, she had every right to guilt me about forgetting to call her on her 88th. Still, I was excited that she said she would come. I began to envision all I could show her, all my favorite spots in Portland and the nature areas I like to recharge. She would have loved it all, not just for what she’d be seeing but because she would have loved my enjoyment of it. 

Grandma Ella was a badass. To me, she existed in her prime. She was a single mom of four children, worked for LA County, and at night, she worked at the LA Times and took night classes to earn her bachelor’s degree, and at age 50, she did. I was four years old and attended her graduation. How many people could say they had their living maternal grandmother at age 42, much less than attending their grandmother’s college graduation before even starting school themselves? Grandma Ella was always a busybody but always willing to be present and take an interest in her grandchildren’s lives. I wouldn’t say she was emotionally nurturing, but she always had a comforting soft, and warming quality about her that I adored and always felt safe around.  I may not have had the motherly affection I wanted and needed. But, on holidays, long weekends, and during summer breaks, I had a grandma who was willing to take me for days at a time to be my teacher and healer and planted all the seeds of wonder and creativity inside of me, even when it was sometimes a bit dangerous and often uncensored. 

When it came out in 1993, Grandma Ella took me to The Nightmare Before Christmas in theaters. She also took me to see movies like Trainspotting and Serial Mom. Each time she realized what happened in those movies, she was always sure to remind me not to share all of the film’s details with my parents. Remember, they wouldn’t even let me listen to Prince. I loved sharing secrets with grandma. It made me feel mischievous. I think she enjoyed being a little  “bad,” too. 

It wasn’t just movies that Grandma Ella took me to. I vividly remember her taking my cousins and me to on-stage theater productions, museums, and art shows. When The Bob Barker marionettes did a mini-show at Midsummer Scream in 2017, Grandma Ella was the first person I shared my experience with, as she was the one who took my cousins and me there for our birthdays when we were kids. She smiled at the memories with her adorable smile and reminded me about the ice cream cups they served.

Her love of reading inspired mine. She always had a book recommendation, and since I was grounded a lot as a kid, I would escape reality with the books Grandma Ella gave me. Then we would discuss them the next time we’d see each other. Which, as a kid, seemed like quite often. As I got older and into my teen years, I would pretend to be unimpressed with the books she gifted me, but I always ALWAYS read them. She kept up with whatever I was interested in during all my phases, and my fiction collection will forever be dedicated to her. 

Grandma Ella’s wanderlust is one I will forever admire until I can see what she has seen. She has been all over the world. From England to Spain. Italy to Jerusalem. Central America to Jamaica.

She grew up in Brooklyn and moved to East Los Angeles and then Montebello. And man, did Grandma do a lot of driving and biking. Recently, going through pictures, I remembered how she would go on these lengthy bike rides. She would go with her bike groups, her life partner Ricardo and even my Aunts. They would ride through Zion National Park, Tahoe, and even Portland! 

My bike rides with Grandma were often sketchy until we would get to whatever bike path she wanted to hit. There were no helmet laws back then, but Grandma Ella taught us bike safety by explaining what signals to use and follow her! She taught us by exposing us to it. There she was in the late ’80s and early 90s on her bike with a few granddaughters in tow on theirs. We’d wind through the busy streets of Montebello to get to “Lake, Lake,” truly known as Legg Lake, and one or two times, all the way to fucking Long Beach. 

She wasn’t selfish with her travels. When I was 12 or 13, Grandma Ella took my two oldest cousins and me to Yosemite. I had no idea what or where Yosemite was. Yea, I know. But remember, when I wasn’t with my Grandma Ella and Aunts, I was sheltered from pretty much everything outside of the home I grew up in and school. So, the trip was a mystery to me, my first road trip outside of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I was so anxious! Grandma was the only adult with three teenage girls on this trip. She drove the entirety of it in a 1988 Toyota Tercel, with no GPS or devices like iPhones or iPads. We played road-trip games, ate McDonald’s, drew, and slept. Grandma got us there safely and in one day. 

Yosemite was the first place I realized how beautiful and intimidating nature could be. It’s where I was first floored by nature, including Grandma Ella’s naturalness. Aside from the wonder and beauty of reaching the top of Vernal Falls and eating sandwiches on Emerald Lake, the top memory of that first trip to Yosemite was Grandma Ella sneezing and then immediately farting- loudly -while we were walking through the village to get dinner. I think my cousins Lucera, Leah, and I hysterically laughed for hours, the rest of the trip, and the entire drive back home. Grandma Ella’s famous sneeze fart has been replicated in homemade shows my cousins, and I would put on for years. Including when the family made us get dressed for Grandma’s surprise 65th Birthday/Retirement party. There we were fancifully on this stage at some party hall in LA, replicating Grandma’s sneeze-fart, farts in general, and making up fart songs. I knew I’d get a lecture from my dad about the inappropriateness of all that later, but Grandma certainly loved it. 

Grandma Ella moved to San Diego after that party. And there she remained until her last day, September 26, 2022. The distance didn’t stop Grandma Ella from meeting me in Temecula to take me to her house. She even put us kids on the Amtrak to and from her house to go home. I loved how much she trusted me despite my mom complaining to her about my behavior as I got older. 

And then, I made Grandma Ella a great-grandma when I was 19. She wasn’t mad at me. She was angry at baby daddy but not enough to ruin the fact that she was about to become a great-grandmother. Grandma Ella was present throughout my pregnancy. She showed up and stayed for my first son’s birth and did the same for each child I had after. As more great-grandkids came into being, my time and my kid’s time grew busier, and so did grandma’s. After her life partner, Ricardo passed in 2005, I enjoyed hearing and seeing pictures of my grandma’s various solo travels. She also attended the births and subsequent birthday parties of her grandkids and great-grandkids. Grandma Ella lived life.

In 2010, at 75, Grandma Ella survived breast cancer and didn’t mind jokes about having one boob after. Once she was in remission, I told my children that Grandma Ella must be immortal. And they believed it. Because since then, my Grandma hasn’t been too sick. She survived the Trump Administration and the Covid Pandemic by being a good troublemaker. She was adamant about covid protocols that upset other family members, even though they kept them and her safe, and thus kept her role as my most incredible role model. 

Fundamental human rights and equal rights for women have always been something Grandma Ella put effort into. She took her children to protests in the 60s and never stopped being an activist. I was on the phone with her after I was done at the first Women’s March in LA after the Cheeto Scrotum got elected. She was headed home from spending the day marching in San Diego. I loved her commentary about her hoping the fuck tard died when he contracted covid in our family group chat while others clutched their pearls. I just enjoyed the moments when my family wasn’t judging me. 

She also put up with a lot of shit throughout her 88 years. A few years back, at one of the agonizing Mother’s Day celebrations, I felt forced to attend, she and I had a moment alone, and we talked about motherhood. In earnest, she confided in me that she carries so much “Mom Guilt,” especially when it comes to my mom. But, my perspective of Grandma Ella is that she was a fantastic mom because she was an example of feminine independence. She didn’t make spectacles of her plights as a mom of 4. She showed her daughters and one son how versatile women are by working, raising families and grandkids, and keeping her own life experience vibrant with art, nourishment, and travel. She didn’t wait for or give praise to some invisible sky wizard or any man. No, Grandma Ella used her divine feminine to move throughout life with integrity and beautiful fierceness. Even though she screwed up at times, and didn’t always understand the new social norms, she always made it a point to be a comforting presence and a safe person for her entire family until her last day. 

Every parent fucks up and being there to talk about our motherly fuck ups and the guilt we carry brought me closer to my Grandmother at that moment, and I told her so. We could always be honest with each other. And she never punished me for being me or fucking up as a mother. She didn’t put my plights on display to attract attention. She genuinely wanted to help me grow. When I decided to adjust my relationship with my mom, I worried grandma would feel like she failed my mom again and be upset with me. I was worried I would lose her love and she would choose sides. She had trouble understanding my reasoning but listened and assured me nothing would change between us. And, she promised.

When I launched my little influencer role, I didn’t expect anyone within my family to take it seriously. But Grandma Ella did. She was the first subscriber to my website. I’m not sure she read every blog or the writings I’ve contributed to other outlets, but she was paying attention! Without me having to ask, she was the first to order merch from me and was the first to donate to a spooky fundraiser I was enthusiastic about. She was the first to comment on my posts and stories on Facebook. I’ll never forget what she said after my first few blogs were published. 

“I don’t understand the appeal of your content, but I love reading what you write. Keep going!”

For a woman withfour adult kids, their spouses, ten grandchildren, 12 great-grandkids, a plethora of friends, travels, yoga, and word puzzles, she was still finding time to read and engage with my writings. She engaged with me, genuinely so, when I shared my PNW discoveries, my stories of playing with forest fairies and frolicking naked in nature. She has, and I know will always be interested in, my life’s journey.

Just a few weeks before Lucera and I received the news that grandma Ella was sick with a disease that would end her, I was reiterating to my children that our Grandma Ella must be some immortal goddess. Being 42 years old with living grandparents, especially Grandma Ella, is magical. I’ve always wondered how I’d feel when the time came when I would no longer have her. It seemed easy to let her go because I’ve had her longer than most people have had their grandparents. I have so many memories and experiences with Grandma Ella.

But it has been harder than I thought. Not hard to accept, but different in the sense that this world won’t have her in the same way anymore. My grief is often silent. There has only been one time I was able to nurture my grief on my terms. My silent grief has been misinterpreted as selfishness, insensitive and uncaring when I don’t make a spectacle of myself or ask to be respected and isolate. Because I have evolved, I promised myself I wouldn’t let the moment with Grandma Ella be like the others. Grandma Ella was present when I was born, and I am grateful I could say goodbye to her during her transition into totality. When I was alone with her for the last time, she rubbed my thigh with her eyes closed and told me some of her intimate secrets and shared memories that had just come to her.

Grandma Ella loved me for who I was. She may have had suggestions for me on living a fulfilled life like hers. But, I took those suggestions as an opportunity to hear her stories repeatedly. I don’t think she wanted me to be different, but I know she never wanted me to change. She wasn’t bothered or found me the subject of a joke when I made up my performances, which were often in her lingerie when we were little. She gave standing ovations and cheered! Grandma Ella never gave up on tempting me to fulfill my dreams. I know she did the same with all her grandkids…the ones that allowed her magic in as there are a few that didn’t care for her wonderfulness. I know she did her absolute best to do so with her kids while raising them, and she did until her last day. 

The last thing grandma Ella asked me before she passed was, “Do you feel slided in time spent with me?”

She knew the answer to the question, though. No, I don’t feel slided. This eulogy was only a sliver of my memories with my grandma Ella. She has shaped so much of who I am now because of who she was. 

Despite my sadness from losing her on September 26th, 2022, I still think of my grandma Ella as a badass for going out when the veil between the living and the dead is thin. October and Halloween may be silly, childish, unreal, and evil to everyone else who loved Grandma Ella, but I can see and sense what’s in the darkness because of my love for this season and what most people consider a holiday. It’s a time when I still feel her presence, and there’s no distance now. I am not saddened that she didn’t get to come to visit me in my happy place and died instead. No, I truly feel like she has been here all along and even more so now. 

But I will miss receiving my only birthday card in the mail from her. I am going to miss those cards so much! I will miss her attempts at understanding why I do what I do. I will miss the sense of belonging she gave me. I will miss her almost making me fall on our walks because she couldn’t walk a straight path to save her life. I will miss her goofy laugh and the way she would shyly walk into a gathering with her unique smile and a little wave. I will miss the way we both would pick up on dark humor and share a bit of mischief between us. But, most of all, I will miss her comments on my writings the most.

I hope you like this one, Grandma Ella.

3 Responses

  1. This is beautiful. You have described grandma with perfection and grace. You are a bad ass as well. I’m waiting for grandma to call me and say “ have you read Michelle’s post, I don’t know why she’s writing about me, but isn’t she such a great writer.”  I agree you are a bad ass writer. I love you Michelle. 

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