In a conference meeting for my internship earlier this month, my supervisor asked my colleagues what woman they admired for Women’s History Month. While most people named Oprah Winfrey or Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I chose someone closer to me, my grandmother or “Baba.”
My grandmother never went to college, but she worked with my grandfather as a secretary at a time when women usually didn’t leave the home, all the while taking care of my mother and eventually raising me like a daughter too.
Every Wednesday morning from kindergarten to eighth grade, Baba would pick me up in her turquoise Jeep and drop me off at school. At the end of the day, she would be waiting to pick me up and take me to her rowhome a few minutes away from the school.
Once there, I would stuff my face with Cheerios, apples, apple sauce, crackers and ice cream like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. It was like indulging in a twenty-course tasting menu from Vetri Cucina in what was practically my second home.
She wouldn’t let me watch television until I finished all of my homework, but when I did, we’d turn on Jeopardy, and she was astounded when I answered more questions correctly than some of the contestants.
But besides that, she taught me skills like how to fold my laundry properly and how to swim in the public swimming pool. With her cheering me on, I slid head first on the slide and took that leap of faith off the diving board into the water.
She always made me call people back to thank them if they gave me something, despite my irrational fear of talking to people on the phone that I’m still not quite over.
She told me to try to do little favors for others because you never know when you will have the favor returned. When she had a stroke and was housebound for a few weeks, many of her friends and neighbors came to her door with gifts, all because she had treated them kindly.
When she fell down the steps in her home and broke her ankle years ago, she looked at the blood and bone and remained calm. I don’t know if I could maintain that composure and tolerate the pain, but I would expect nothing less of a woman so mentally and physically strong.
She’d always send me home with bags of home cooked meals and groceries for my family. She cut my hair until I resolutely declared I wanted to let it grow long. She let me pick tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden in the backyard. She played wiffle ball and board games with me. She encouraged me to draw and hung my artwork on the fridge, and she took me on frequent walks to the park, just to keep me busy.
Aside from the fun and games, she cleaned my family’s clothing when my parents were too busy working and gave us money in times of financial duress.
But she was a disciplinarian as well, and I didn’t dare to cross her. If I was acting up, she’d yell at me to “sit down” and “be quiet” in Slovak.
A frugal saver, she put away money in a fund used to pay for my college tuition. Without her generosity and proactive planning, I wouldn’t be graduating next month.
My grandmother is my grocery store, hairdresser, cook, maid, laundromat, bank and playground, but first and foremost, she is my grandmother. While I don’t look forward to Wednesdays anymore as an adult because I have to work, I occasionally call her and remind her I haven’t forgotten “our Wednesdays.”
Although I know I’ll never be able to return the favor, I’d like to try.