Saturday, September 12, 2009


The last time I saw my grandmother was August 21. She was sitting at the kitchen table in my parents' house. The oxygen tubes were out for the moment and my mom had persuaded her to wear the wig that she said itched her head, where the chemo had left her with birdlike tufts. She'd been saying some weird things, drifting back and forth between past and present, herself and her inventions. She applied lipstick, shaky but sure.

My car was packed up and Emmett was following me around with an anxious gaze, wagging tentatively, don't leave me. "I'm taking off now," I said, bending to kiss her. "I love you."

Her cheek was very soft. She put a hand on my face. "Love you too," she said. "We'll see you at Christmas."

And I almost believed it--even though I knew better and she usually did too--that the next time I came home would be Christmas and she would be there at that same spot at the kitchen table, where she always holds court.

My grandmother Addie loved her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, going to the lake, Reba and Dolly, reading Vanity Fair and People, eating Mexican food at CompaƱeros, dancing, and the sun. She had great legs. Her parents were Norwegian and she spent her whole life in northern Minnesota. My grandfather claimed proudly that she was "tougher'n boiled owl." To her great shock, she discovered at age 65 when she went to sign up for social security or something that on her birth certificate, her legal name was not actually Adeline but Leigh Camilla. "Why did they call me Adeline?" she said over breakfast at Perkins on Paul Bunyan Drive. "I would have liked to be Leigh!" But Addie she had been, and Addie she stayed. Seventy-seven years.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of her, dancing with my cousin Ben, from my cousin Sarah's wedding just eleven months ago.

And this was just January, with her great-grandchildren Ava and Addie, her namesake.

This is how I'll always know her: vital and warm and with her arms around one of us.

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