I was lucky in life to be blessed with two awesome grandmas. My Grandma Syl (or Grandma Carlson) lived in Illinois while we lived in Colorado, so I didn’t see her very often. I was her only granddaughter amidst four grandsons for about 12 years, so she spoiled me a bit from afar and made me feel special. My cousin Angie came along and spoiled that fun, but she’s turned out okay so I will forgive her.
Every spring though, I think of my other Grandma. She loved flowers, and we both loved lilacs. Everytime I smell lilacs, memories of Grandma Lettuce flood my brain.
My Grandma Jones (and later, Grandma Lettuce), lived nearby. We spent a lot of time with her, and my cousins on that side of the family. My mom had two sisters, and all three families eventually lived in or near Greeley, Colorado. My Grandpa Jones ran a successful business, and much of the family was involved in that. It seemed like once a week we were at my Grandma’s house. And I loved it.
And my Grandma Jones doted on me. I think, because she raised three girls, she didn’t understand the boys and their rambunctiousness very well. Between all of us, there were three grandsons and four granddaughters, but I’m pretty sure I was her favorite. I was a really easy baby (so I’ve heard), and I know I was an agreeable child (I’ve always found it’s easier to go along to get along, at least until it’s something worth the fight). I think that was part of it. I was also a cute little girl, with big dimples, blonde hair, and green-blue eyes. I was just pleasant, and I think Grandma liked that.
We started calling her lettuce when I was about 13. Her name was Gladys, and one of my younger cousins heard her dad call her that. Or misheard, I should say. She then asked her dad, “Why are you calling Grandma lettuce?” So, she became Grandma Lettuce.
I remember baking with Lettuce, shopping with Lettuce. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter with Lettuce (and usually the whole family). The men sitting in the den watching t.v., the women talking and cooking, the kids playing in the basement or in the yard. She lived in two houses in my life, and both were pretty cool.
I went away to college and things started to go bad. Grandma got sick, the economy got bad, and the business started to slide. I spent the next year at home (I was not a very successful college student my first time out. I think I was too young and in sensory overload, among other things). I spent a lot of time at Lettuce’s house, watching soaps and just talking. I remember her telling me I should try to be a model (um, I’m a little over 5’1”) because I had such a pretty face. Even when I felt awkward and stupid, Lettuce made me feel special.
So, during these three or four weeks when the lilacs bloom, I try to live up to Lettuce’s expectations. I try to be smart, kind, and pretty. I try to be easygoing. And I remember, to my Grandma Lettuce, I was always beautiful.
“My Popo said love makes us good. It doesn’t matter who we love, nor does it matter whether our love is reciprocated or not or if the relationship lasts. Just the experience of loving is enough, that’s what transforms us”
Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende is a beautifully written story of emotionally and psychologically scarred Maya Vidal, her spiral down and her slow climb back up from addiction. It’s a coming of age story in the most difficult of circumstances.
Maya starts life abandoned. Her father and mother divorce, and her Danish mother heads home, leaving the child in her step-grandfather’s arms. Her father is a womanizing pilot, and has no time to be a father. Maya is raised in a world of wonder with her Chilean grandmother, Nidia Vidal, and her Popo. Nidia, or Nini, is a free spirit with a backbone and high expectations, but lots of love. Popo is the nurturer, reading to Maya, taking her to her activities, making room for her in his stargazing tower and teaching her about his passion, astronomy, a field in which he is a well-regarded professor. In their home in Berkeley, the family thrives and grows.
When Popo gets cancer and dies, Maya’s life takes a bad turn. Her spiral downward is steady, although slightly slowed by rehabilitation attempts by her father and grandmother. Eventually, she is a homeless druggie in Las Vegas, discovered and saved by good samaritans and her Nini. She’s then shipped to a remote Chilean island, and into the home of an old friend of Nini’s, Manuel Arias, a man as enigmatic and secretive as her grandmother and natural grandfather.
Maya is sent to this island to escape drug dealers, the mafia, corrupt police, and the FBI. On this island Maya finds acceptance and mystery, and learns that every family, every person, has their demons and their ghosts. She traces her grandparents history in Chile, and learns that even a country can fall into despair and lift itself backup.
Allende does a beautiful job of telling Maya’s story through her journals. Beautifully written and deep felt, this is a book worth reading.