When did she become Gigi, anyway? When I was little, she was "Grandma Gladys." When we really wanted to irritate her, we called her "Granny." Then, somewhere along the way, when I was no longer a child but not yet an adult, either, Grandma Gladys was abbreviated to G.G., which in time, and with the coming of a new generation, became Gigi.
I never called her Gigi, and I never got used to the name. She is still Grandma Gladys to me.
Last week she died, my Grandma Gladys, when I was two continents and an ocean away. I was in flip-flops in snow boot season. I was visiting in one Communist country, and living in another, when Grandma Gladys closed her eyes. She was 95.
I spent a lifetime admiring her, sometimes emulating her, and often imagining myself to be like her. I longed for her, and for the idea of her. I wanted to be near and dear to a grandmother, but instead I spent my childhood at the opposite end of the country, the youngest grandchild of seven, and the one that knew her the least.
I will miss Grandma Gladys, but then, that's nothing new. I have always missed her. I grew up far from my grandparents, all of them, and envied those friends of mine whose extended families lived nearby. I would never change my childhood in Oregon, because I am certain that I would be a far different creature had I been raised in my ancestral home in Alabama, the home my parents left shortly after marriage. But that childhood in Oregon cost me the opportunity to really know my grandparents and to know the deep connection of generations.
Now I am in China, raising my child in the same way my parents raised me: in a world apart from her grandparents, and a world away from roots. The choice Bruce and I have made is similar to the choice my parents made in their time: raising my child in China is perhaps similar to what raising a child in Oregon was to a couple of parents from Alabama, back in their day. Perhaps my parents wondered, as I wonder, what their choice would do to their children, and for their children. In our case we are trading language for loving, travel for touches, life experience for connection. If we stay on the present course, this geographical distance will prevent Vivian from knowing her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins well, but perhaps she will know the world better than I did, do, or ever could.
And for us, hopefully, the distance is not permanent. So that eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we will be close to family and friends again. So that Vivian will know her family, so that cousins will be friends, and grandparents will be more than a fantasy.
I am remembering Grandma Gladys tonight.