It is not fully recognizable who your best friend really is until he or she is gone. Many people remember their best friend from when they were little kids as maybe the boy down the street who came down and played GI JOE, or the girl next door whom you had daily tea parties with. Either way, your best friend was usually around the same age as you. This was not the case with me. My best friend was about 65 years older than I was.
Yes, it may sound weird, but it is true. My grandma, or Gamma as I called her, was my best friend for the first five years of my life. I think that in those five years we had learned so much from each other. We always got along. She taught me good manners but also how to have fun. I taught her that, at even at sixty-five years old, she could still be young.
I can still remember the excitement when ever I found out that I would get to go to Gammas house to spend the weekend, or even just for the night. She only lived about ten minutes away from me; as a result, I got to visit her often. I can remember the smell of her house as I walked in the back door. It was a kind of musty, grandma smell. Our sleepovers were always such a thrill! The were a blast mainly because she would let me do things that my mom would probably not have approved of, like staying up 30 minutes past my bedtime and eating chocolate ice cream in bed with her, or jumping up and down on the bed. It was great.
Sleepovers were not the end of our fun. Daytime was great, too. She lived right down from a little park with a lake, so on hot summer days, we would pack a picnic lunch and spend the day at the beach, that is what I liked to pretend it was. And sometimes, after a little bit of begging, she would even come join me for a swim. The park was not the only fun thing to do with Gamma. We would play around in the backyard, making that small, fenced in piece of land a place for exciting adventures. We would chase each other with the water hose or the sprinkler. Oh, and I could never forget the countless trips to the museum or the zoo, and then to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. It was always exciting. I never seemed to get bored.
Another thing that I loved about her was that she never seemed to get annoyed or tired of my talking, and we all know I have a tendency to talk a lot. She would sit and listen or at least pretend to very well. With a smile on her face she would hear absolutely everything I had to say, from how much I was a big girl, to my adventures with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
Then, one day, she came back from the doctor and she had found out that she had a lump in her breast that was cancerous. But that did not keep her from playing with me, smiling and laughing though, until she found out that it had spread too much to remove it. My grandma, my mom and my dad were very upset. I never knew though because she would not let my mom or dad tell me about what was going on because I wouldnt understand, she would say. All I knew was that my grandma was sick. Gamma went through countless chemotherapy treatments and lost all of her hair; I did not really understand what was going on. My grandma got a few wigs and would always joke about with them so it didnt seem like a big deal. Never did it occur to me that my grandmother was dying.
Weeks and months went by. Gamma was not as happy or playful as she was once before. Our trips to the beach had stopped as did our sprinkler fights and our ice cream sleepovers. She had moved to the other side of the house and a lady came over every day. We seemed to be there every day too. All my aunts and uncles and cousins came into town at different times to visit and would stay about a week. I saw this as a playtime with my cousins who I seldom saw; they thought the same thing. After a few weeks Gamma was not at home anymore, instead she was at the hospital. I remember coming to see her almost every day and one time not even recognizing her. Nothing clicked in though. I was only five. Using all her strength she would give me a smile and a little laugh when I would draw her a picture or show her my dance routine I had learned in dance class that day.
On April 2, 1989, my grandma passed away. It still did not register right then that she was gone forever. A few years ago I saw a family video made around the same time my grandma was going through her chemo treatment. I saw what a strong person she was. She was always smiling and laughing even though you could see, in her eyes, the pain she was going through. She truly was my best friend and also a wonderful role model. She always repeated this one phrase that I will always remember:
Old dancers never die. They just shuffle off. Right now, I think that she is just shuffling off.