Shoeboxes, sleepovers, and snowballs

Memories of a lifetime of a grandmother’s love

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Nana wearing the Stole of Gratitude at Michelle’s college graduation.

When my 93-year-old Nana moved recently, I was thrilled to find a shoebox covered in wrapping paper and stickers that I made for her when I was 14. It was a way to thank her for helping me prepare for my eighth grade Israel trip--and now, 15 years later, it's so full that the lid hardly fits.

I made the box because, when I looked up "gift ideas for a grandmother," a lot of what I found didn't match us. We've never baked cookies together and going to her house never meant "no rules" or "unlimited presents." She's always been about experiences--and she started giving me the best of those on the day I was born.

Growing up with Nana as my only grandparent meant that, to me, a grandparent was someone who came to every important event in my life, helped me through every problem, and was basically a third parent whose biggest mission in life was to make me smile.

And the uniqueness of this relationship deserved something that reflected what it was--a blank slate, ready to be filled with the next adventure.

When Nana and I went through the box, we pored through her "reviews" of everything I wrote as a little girl, and I do mean everything --even if that meant the backstory I gave the caterpillar in my backyard or the latest adventures of my Lego action figures, both of which apparently deserved Pulitzers.

We sifted through family heirlooms that we have used to celebrate every Jewish holiday together, as well as knickknacks passed down from her family members. I put her mother's thimble on my thumb as I leafed through endless papers, art projects, and written-down memories.

Remembering "the time Michelle tried to lock the door from the inside with Scotch tape so she could stay at Nana's apartment longer" or "the time Nana wrote Michelle a card with her left hand after she broke her right wrist so she wouldn't miss a week of mail" never fails to bring us joy.

We even still have the packaging from the time Nana--who was born in Canada and now lives in Atlanta--jokingly asked me to mail her a snowball when I went to college up north, and I obliged.

Some things can't fit in the box, like the "Stole of Gratitude" I made for her when I graduated college that signified my wish to honorarily share my degree with her. There's the vintage Scrabble board we've been playing with my whole life, that we still bring out on our sleepovers whenever I visit. And so much more from almost three decades of our lives together.

Over time, things have changed--but there's a great deal that stays the same. Even though she became a sounding board for teenage drama or grad school woes instead of a partner for The Game of LIFE, what never changed was how much I love her and appreciate every role she's played in my life.

When I made the memory box, I was afraid of going on a trip away from Nana for the first time. I knew I would miss her guidance, support, and most of all, unconditional love--even if the trip was only for a short time.

Now, as an adult, I live far away from Nana but come home as often as I can--and when I can't, I check my mailbox for a never-ending barrage of letters and can always dial my favorite phone number.

And in my apartment, I have my own memory box. I save everything, cherish every moment, and know that no matter how long I live, my life will always be touched by this particular brand of a grandmother's love.

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