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“Komm Herr Jesus,” she invokes, “sei du unser Gast, und segne, was du uns bescheret hast. Amen,” and we all join in on the cross. “Vater, Sohn, und Heiliger Geist. Amen.”
I always fumbled the words.
My grandmother would lift her head and throw a scolding look at my grandfather for rushing the prayer. We all just smiled, laughed, and called out happily, “Let’s eat!”
It never occurred to me exactly what prayer must mean to my grandma. We say it every Tuesday evening we have dinner with her, and have recently taken to saying it at mealtime at our own home. We’re not religious: that is to say, my father and I. But she never gave up. She always got us to recite the Catholic prayer she grew up with. It is my only positive experience with religion. A pure, perhaps slightly timid, prayer stuck in my mind where she could only hope it would grow.
And then there’s the smell of White Diamonds and hairspray: my other grandmother. Younger than my paternal grandmother, she clings to her youth with a wild audacity that seems to slap time across the face with a bottle of dark brown hair dye and golden red highlights. I go out with her to work: she runs a new home cleaning business that I’ve worked for for as long as I can remember. I’ll never know how she manages to smell like perfume at the end of a workday when the rest of us smell like Windex and wood polish. She’s loud and brash and everything someone young should be. After all, she’s only in her fifties. There’s plenty of life left in her.
And my Oma sets the table quietly, never needing to ask for help with the dishes or cleaning up; we’re always helping. She wears her Block’s Bagels apron proudly as she cooks. She’ll never stop working. She enjoys it too much. She walks several miles every morning, rain or shine, on her treadmill if she must. She wakes up early and has coffee brewing before my grandpa wakes up, breakfast ready. Sometimes she’s even gone for work before he wakes up. After all, he sleeps in more now. He has retired, at last.
Mamaw’s often content just to sit on the couch, do a crossword, and watch soap operas with her slippered feet propped up on the coffee table and a fan blowing on her. It’s funny to watch her sit down and do something so grandmotherly.
There’s something strange in both my grandmothers. They’re impossibly different. A seemingly timid German woman who has lived as a housewife all her life, and a woman who is a pureblooded American in action: fierce, loud, and just slightly intrusive. But look at the strength in them. One has not let me forget where I come from. I will always have that chant-like Catholic prayer. One will not let me settle down and grow old. After all, she never has.
It’s funny that I’d never really thought of the profound effect they have both had on me, before. But the more I think about it, the more I treasure the little bit of religion and vanity they have contributed to my understanding of how to live life.
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