My real mom

There is so much that can be said about my grandma, but I’d like to focus on just one aspect of what made Grace Chambers such a remarkable woman.

Last spring, after grandpa died, grandma and I were having breakfast and I mentioned something about my “real” mom. Grandma stopped me and said in her stern way, “she wasn’t your ‘real’ mom — all she did was give birth to you.”

She was right.

For much of my life growing up, it was just my dad and me. As I told you all in May, we lived with my grandparents for a while, and I was blessed to have that chance to get to be that close to them. Even before that, they were a huge part of my life.

I was born in Alamogordo during May. On that day, there was a freak snowstorm in Santa Fe and grandma and grandpa couldn’t get out of town. I can only imagine what it was like in their house. Last year, grandpa told me “it was hell” — because grandma was beside herself and angry that they had to wait a couple of days to head south.

Grandma took it on herself to fill the role of my “real” mom. She made sure I made it to the dentist and doctor, ate my fruits and veggies and had plenty of clothes to wear. In kindergarten, she secured a transfer so I could attend what she considered to be the best elementary school in town.

When dad and I moved to Albuquerque, grandma would show up every few weeks or so to fill our freezer with container after container of her spaghetti sauce and her split pea soup. While my dad grew tired of the soup, I still love it. Though I’ve stopped ordering it at restaurants because I’ve yet to find a batch as good as grandma’s.

Uncle Mike and Aunt Dianne definitely helped fill that role for me too. But grandma was my rock.

After we moved to California, grandma was still determined to make sure I had stability and a strong foundation. That didn’t always go over well with the step mom, but I don’t think grandma cared about that. In fact, I know she didn’t care — grandma was always the one in charge.

They visited often in the beginning, and I still spent my summers in Santa Fe — my grandparents carting me around town to swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, camp, museums, you name it.

As traveling became more difficult for them and life became more busy for me, I didn’t see them as often — but we spent a lot of time on the phone. Each call would include questions like, “Do you need anything? How about socks or underwear? Have you been taking your vitamins?”

At 32-years-old, I was still being mothered. But her persistence paid off. There are no fillings in my mouth because she pounded the importance of dental hygiene into my head.

She loved to take us grandkids shopping. If we were traveling and there was an outlet mall or Herberger’s within 50 miles, we had to go there. Though I suspect we were just an excuse for her to hit up the department stores.

But don’t get me wrong, she let me know when she didn’t like something I was doing or planning to do. I can hear her tone now, as I’m sure all of us in the family can: “Now, Tom.”

But she wouldn’t dwell on those things. She didn’t spend a lot of time rubbing our noses in it — I said a lot of time. There definitely were moments when she would let you know you had screwed up. But once her point was made, she moved on.

Our routine phone calls didn’t stop. During the last few years, grandma seemed determined to get me to move back to Santa Fe. I began receiving a weekly envelope, stuffed with the Sunday help-wanted ads and jobs sections of the New Mexico papers. I still have a voicemail I couldn’t delete from a few weeks ago about a job opportunity in Santa Fe.

It seemed that 22 years after we left New Mexico, she just wanted me to come back. Knowing that the job market for my chosen field had dried up, she still wanted to protect me and help me start over. Till the end, she was my real mom.

So much so, that in the family the words “your grandma” and “your mom” are synonymous. When talking to me, my dad and uncle still refer to each other as “your brother.” Though it can be confusing at times, we don’t bother correcting ourselves.

Both of my grandparents were my biggest fans. It’s hard not to talk about grandma and grandpa without making the story about yourself — because they both were so focused on our well-being, our happiness and our goals.

And it wasn’t just me. They were all of our biggest fans. Half my conversations — once we dispensed with the weather, politics and whether I needed any undies — were about what Shelley and Kevin were up too.

And though it is heart wrenching, it is fitting that they left us together. Their example of love for each other can’t be beat. Grandpa used to joke that grandma said she’d “never do it again,” referring to their marriage. And it’s true — they are the epitome of a perfect love. Inseparable and in love for 55 years.

Their house has always felt like home to me more than any place else, but after the last few days I realize it wasn’t the house — it seems hallow without them. They were what made it home.

As a family we’ve been comforting ourselves with the typical phrases: They’re together now, grandma can breath without an oxygen tank, grandpa’s hands are working perfectly, they’re in a better place.

But the clichés only go so far. They don’t mitigate the fact that there’s a huge void left in our lives. Our foundation hasn’t just been shaken — it seems to have vanished.

For me, I can only hope to live a life that meets my grandparents’ expectations and to follow their example. Only in that will the foundation remain.

4 thoughts on “My real mom”

  1. Tom, you did your grandmother proud with this writing. The eloquence, the words, the way you made every reader wish they’d known her — they show that the foundation is still there, living on through you.

  2. It cut deep…I still remember when my granda (mother side) died a few years ago and I was guilty because i didn’t make it to her burial..I only saw the photos and before I knew it tears were running down my cheeks…

  3. Your words say exactly how I feel about my grandparents… I called them Mom and Daddy and many people referred to them as my parents. Everyone can’t understand that bond but you do, and I appreciate you writing this; it gave me a moment to remember the love I felt and how much their love and support still keep me going.

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