6.3 Editor's Pick
March 28, 2024

Cupboards: Love, Loss, Grief & the Childhood Memories we Hold Onto.

{*Did you know you can write on Elephant? Here’s how—big changes: How to Write & Make Money or at least Be of Benefit on Elephant. ~ Waylon}


My mother lost her mother too young, too.

My Grandma White (LaVerna) had a tragic life by any measure.

She was a widow to suicide, an ill woman, she bore horrific scars across her chest from primitive, small town mastectomies, and went through more heartache than a Hallmark or Lifetime movie could fit into a couple of hours.

She also worked hard, which seems to be the mantra of the women in my family. In her case, really hard. Too hard. I often think of her when my peers dramatically “need” a wine infused girls’ night or talk of self-care. Neither came for LaVerna.

As I have gotten older, and have attempted to indulge the course of my own grief and heartache, I have wondered if there isn’t clairvoyance or foreshadowing to be found in the childhood memories we hold onto. We can all conjure up a handful of memories from our preschool years—some of us many, some of us few.

Psychologists or experts likely have expansive theories on why we remember certain things, few things, or more so which things, but I am wondering if there isn’t more to it. Perhaps the memories we are graced to hold onto are interlinked with our family webs, our ancestors, and shed insight into far more in a more universal scheme. The premonitions are there if we pay attention.

The few memories I have of my Grandma White are of her helping my mother with the tasks of the home life she struggled to manage after long days of work, parenting, mowing the yard, exhaustion, and contending with car problems, bills, sick kids, and after school events she never missed.

Like my Grandma White, my mom, Janet, became a single mom to young children amidst chaos, soul wrecking disappointment, and financial desperation.

The most vivid memory I have of my Grandma White is one that would have been when I was young—certainly younger than five. She was cleaning and organizing the kitchen cabinets in our home. Pulling every box of powdered scalloped potatoes, cans of tuna, and colorful Tupperware off the shelves, setting it on the counter, crawling around up into even the highest cupboards and wiping things down—real old-fashioned small town cleaning—all the way to the back corners.

Fast-forward a few years, and I remember Grandma White folding laundry in our living room in a different house, a rental house, while my mom worked too many hours to keep it all going. Again, folding with no edges overlapping, precisely stacked—not the kind of folding I’ve ever done.

In both memories, there is sun streaming in through the big windows while there was gossip, storytelling, and teasing between mother and daughter.

She died too young. My mom was too young to have lost her mother, which is the same fate that befell my siblings and I. Parentless as parents. At least I am lucky enough to have a handful of memories of my Grandma White; my kids have none of my own mom.

When my oldest was a baby, I remember my mom cleaning out the cabinets in my kitchen, and a time or two, expertly folding my laundry and having bountiful, beautiful clean baskets filled with little boys’ overalls, footie pajamas, and bright Gymboree onesies with elephants and dinosaurs.

And then she got sick.

The vision I hold of my Grandma White, in the sunbeams, cleaning kitchen cabinets and folding our laundry haunts me. It’s a reminder of what I lost, a reminder of what my mom lost before me. It’s what my siblings lost, and to the depths of my soul, the thing in this world I want the most to give my own kids, along with LaVerna and Janet, all three of us in the sunbeam together.

The reason you’ll never find me dreading a birthday, or complaining about aging, or filling my face with Botox is because my grandmother propped up on those cabinets etched in my mind as a three- or four-year-old little girl remains branded by a hot iron in my brain as the truest testament to love, beauty, goodness, and womanhood I’ve ever been a part of. All that is female. But perhaps that’s because of what I lost. I lost women—beautiful, vibrant, complicated, imperfect women who endeared themselves to me doing the most simplest of household tasks.

Something about that memory of my grandmother climbing on the kitchen counters—instead of memories of what gifts she gave me for my birthday or what special jello-marshmello-canned fruit dish she made or something funny, beautiful, or unique about her, it’s the cupboards that fatefully became the one thing in this world I want most to give back the universe as a testament to what I had to survive my own single motherhood without. What my mother lost. What my sister lost. What my brothers lost.

I despise folding laundry and my cabinets are atrocious messes. I wonder if I have waited my whole 18 years as a mother for my grandmother, or my mother, to come in through a sunbeam and be there with me, doing the mindless chores mothers are tasked with and have been tasked with since the beginning of time. But they have never shown. Instead, I have done it alone. Just as they did in the end.

One day, when my young grandchildren are making messes in a kitchen, it is my fervent prayer that I remake and relive those memories as a grandmother, wrinkles and all.

So why did God, or the cosmos, or the shapers of who we are, hold onto the cupboard and laundry memories for me when there were millions of other tiny moments of bike rides, bedtime stories, pretty dresses, or Christmas mornings with her to have kept? I know why. To many, your grandmother folding laundry as the sun came in through a window in your childhood living room is nothing. For me, it was going to be everything painful, joyful and tragic—and as time would tell, more so a mystic vision of who I wanted to be for my own family one day. Not just for me. But for Janet, LaVerna, and my sister too.

Someday, I’ll clean out my daughter’s cabinets, in her home, in front of her and her children. She’ll chide me for not doing it right, or tell me she doesn’t need the help. And as I watch the sun gaze in, I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to share in the smallest and most mundane tasks of domestic life with my own, and the under-valued, cherished chance at old age.

When it comes to loss, it’s in the simple age-old traditions of life we grieve the most. So no, I will not resist growing older; I owe too many women the opportunity to live on through me who didn’t get the chance.

And to me, that’s what being a whole, fulfilled woman was always meant to be.


{Please consider Boosting our authors’ articles in their first week to help them win Elephant’s Ecosystem so they can get paid and write more.}


Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Michelle Burge  |  Contribution: 7,890

author: Michelle Burge

Image: Author's Own

Editor: Lisa Erickson