A long time ago in 1920, my grandmother’s family lived in the little town of Wenham, Massachusetts. Wenham was a place where wealthy people had summer homes and caretakers, of which my great grandfather was one (caretaker, not a wealthy person). My grandmother lived here with her family and grew up in Wenham, eventually going to Beverly High School. She walked miles to school even in winter, though I am sure it was not uphill both ways, took silversmithing as an elective, and graduated. A while later, she got a job testing special aircraft engines at the General Electric where she met her husband, and after that, life became more complicated with a series of moves – one every year or two, it seemed. They lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts in the very beginning of their marriage, with her mother-in-law, and before long, lived all over the United States.
Through it all, my grandmother wanted to go home. She loved California, but she wanted to go home. Before she died at what she said was the much-too-old age of 92, she asked us all to take her home when the end came. That is what we did.
She passed away in December, and I was willing to take her remains then to Wenham since the weather was not too terrible yet. But she had said it was all right to wait until spring and it seemed easier on the rest of the family if we did. I made a plan for a service in May. In late April, I wrote to as many of our family members as I could find in her address book to ask if they would be able to come to Wenham. And they all wrote back or sent word through someone who did write. They were going to come! One fine day in late May, we gathered there in Wenham at what I was surprised to find was a beautiful cemetery, and did just as she had asked.
While we were all very sad that Grandma had left us, we were happy to see each other and I got to meet several people I had only ever heard about. Some of the cousins had not seen each other in 50 years and soon, at a nearby restaurant, everyone was talking and laughing and passing around old photographs. It is my belief that this is the sort of afternoon my grandmother would have organized if only she could have. At least I hope so.
The next day we took our rental car up the coast. I drove us out to Marblehead to see the Norwegian home my great-grandfather built for his wife, and then up into Maine to enjoy Cape Arundel and Kennebunkport in its brief summer glory. Lobster rolls were happily consumed, memories were shared, and blueberry pie disappeared. The day finished with a walk around Portland, a long ride, and a good supper back in Boston. We enjoyed the beauty of New England and the food my grandmother always loved. I still remember the time she brought home a crate of bluefish on ice and we picked it up at the baggage claim. She’d been on a plane all day but when we took her home that night from the airport, she cooked the fish for us all for dinner, so that we could eat it while it was still as fresh as possible.
Finally, when everyone else was on their flight home, Mom & I had a couple of hours to visit the Page house. This is an historic building where our ancestors lived generations ago. It’s fallen on rather hard times since the historical society moved their headquarters and all their excess stuff ended up in the Page House. Still, they are trying to take care of it. They have much of the old furniture still set in place, and you can see how the post and beam construction is sagging and warped but holding up. Grandma had talked about it all these years, and it seemed somehow that it would be a bit more magnificent. Well, I guess you can’t have everything as it once was. Mom & I smiled and tried to remember the pride it had always represented in Grandma’s voice. At least the town of Wenham is still just as rich and beautiful as it once was – that hasn’t changed. Nor have the traditions of the people there or their love of heritage.
Wherever my grandmother is, I wish her well, and I hope she knows that we think of her. I hope that she knows we all remember her and that she made a difference to each of us. Finally I hope she knows how much we all enjoyed the blueberry pie – she would have liked that.