Years ago when I decided to file for divorce I struggled with the potential and probable consequences of my course of action. I knew my marriage was over but I also knew that by leaving my husband I was in effect leaving his extended family. I had loved the time I had spent with his aunts and uncles, his cousins, his siblings, his parents and of course his grandparents.
I had heard about "Grandma and Grandpa Vizas" well before I met them. Grandma Vizas in particular was notorious within the family. She was described as formidable, brilliant, opinionated and rigid in her views of proper social conduct. She was loved but she was also feared. So of course I was nervous when I first met her. It didn't help that one of the first questions she asked me was if I was a good cook. I realized that she saw this as an important skill for a woman who was about to become a wife to have and I considered lying to her. Unfortunately I didn't have the chance because my then fiance was there to hear the question and burst out laughing. I was, at that time, completely useless in the kitchen while my betrothed was practically a gourmet in the most literal sense of the word. Still, I tried to endear myself to her. It was for her benefit that I and all my bridesmaids marched up to the make-up counter at Macy's shortly before the ceremony and asked one of the cosmeticians to cover up the tattoos that would otherwise be exposed by our low-back dresses.
It was Grandma Vizas that told me about the family history. She could trace her family line back to pre-revolutionary war days. She was related to both Quincy and John Adams as well as the man who designed the first plane to successfully break the so-called sound barrier. When I got married she asked if I would sew a button from the revolutionary war uniform worn by one of her ancestors into the hem of my dress. I eagerly agreed although I was terrified that the button would get lost as I whirled across the dance floor. It didn't (thank God).
But there was a darker side of her family too. I was told that she had been disinherited when she dared to marry someone who was Greek (that's what counted as ethnic diversity in the family). Yet she refused to make prejudice a part of her life. For my birthday she sent me handmade place-mats with little Stars Of David and Torahs on them. It made me laugh but I understood what she was trying to say. She wanted me to know that she supported me and respected my religion and heritage although it was very different from her own. I still have those place-mats and I drag them out every Hanukkah. They mean the world to me.
I assumed that when the divorce was finalized I would never hear from either her or her husband again. Instead they sent me a card with a handwritten note from both of them. "You are in our thoughts," they said, "and you will always be our granddaughter."
I cried when I got that card. Since then I've shared a Thanksgiving with them and talked to them on the phone. Grandma Vizas went to her local library and insisted that they carry all of my books. She was good to me.
This month she passed away unexpectedly. The memorial service is tomorrow. I can still see her sitting by my side asking about my cooking skills. I miss her but I trust that she is at peace. She will never be forgotten.
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