Growing up, I called my grandmother on my mother's side "Grandma Gina." I saw her as tall, blonde, and always worried about what I was up to. And, to be fair, I did give her things to worry about -- I was a child who liked to climb, swing, run, jump and would always come home to her with scrapes, bruises, and scabs. She wore Keds sneakers and striped shirts. She had my favorite juice (Hugs) in a basement cooler every time we came to visit, and she loved strawberry ice cream in waffle cones on hot summer nights. It took me until I was around four or five to realize her actual name was Regina. Weird, I thought, that it never occurred to me she was anyone other than Grandma Gina. But she existed before I did, and had a life I had no idea about. So I asked questions and she told stories; then she would ask questions and I would tell stories back.

After my younger cousin was born, Grandma Gina was renamed. "G.G.," was her new moniker, and my little cousin would sing it over and over again in the kitchen high chair he sat in while we all watched Wheel of Fortune while trying to adjust the picture on the TV. (God, I loved those metal bunny ears. I was pretty upset our TV back at home in Maryland didn't have them. Was it specifically a Pittsburgh thing? I didn't. know.) My sister tried to persuade him otherwise -- she was Grandma Gina, not G.G., didn't he know that? -- but he was not to be deterred. Even long after he could pronounce Grandma Gina, she stayed G.G., and we all adopted the new name.

I think of my grandmother in the summer most often. Every July we packed up the car and made the five hour drive from Ellicott City to a suburb outside of Pittsburgh. On the fourth, we would walk (or, if I was lucky, I'd be carried on someone's shoulders) a few miles down the road to the local park, lay out blankets on the grass, and watch the fireworks and listen to music. During the days of visiting her, I would explore her tall house, especially the attic with its funny ceiling, scary hatch door that led presumably either to Hell or Narnia, and I would go through all of the secret treasure the space hid.

On particularly hot days when my aunt was willing to sit outside and watch us, my sister and I would swim in the pool in my grandmother's back yard. That pool deck had been rebuilt a number of times but somehow always bounced when we ran on it, splintering our feet. For hours and hours, long past the point of pruning fingers, my sister and I would jump from the side of the pool, gulp a giant lung-full of air, and swim down down down to touch the bottom. We would float on our backs and stare at the sun while our goggles dented our cheeks and noses. As I got older, I would do handstands and flips off the stiff, low diving board or stand in the shallow end, propping up a book on the deck to read. I remember very specifically standing in the corner of the pool one summer, making my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was the biggest book I'd ever read at that point.

My grandmother comes to me through specific snatches of scenes and senses. The way the red shag carpet of her house felt between my toes. The low clang of the doorbell. The warm, golden dust of the attic. The chlorine of the pool, the burning smell of fireworks. The bells she kept on her fireplace, that I was never supposed to play with but secretly (not so secretly) did. The treadmill in her office with the stretchy bands hanging over the handles.

Salt. Everyone gave her such a hard time about how much salt she would use.

Cereal. She always asked us what kind of special cereal we wanted when we visited -- no matter how sugary, she would get it. (Reese's Puffs were my favorites.)

The flagpole in her front yard that I would swing on and try to climb while no one was looking. I always was caught.

The front porch with the stone railing that I would balance on, even while she watched and worried I would topple off and break my arm. I promised her that I wouldn't fall, and if I did it was okay because I knew how to fall -- that's what gymnastics was for!

The teal-blue small car with an angel on its visor. I would watch that angel and cross my fingers that the little engine could handle the steep hills of her neighborhood.

Pop, she said, never soda. Always Pepsi, never Coke. Gum bands, not rubber bands. I still give her a hard time about that one. My G.G. is someone who has a quiet, subtle strength. She's hardworking, no matter how tired or pained she was, she was always on her way out to work. Even when she didn't have to be up, she would always get out of bed at five in the morning and drink her coffee, black, as she watched the news. There is also a sass to her that I never realized she possessed until I got older. But she has a mouth on her sometimes -- not crude, just smart. She gives my sister a run for her money. Watching them go back and forth makes me smile and wish I had that same connection.

She is also so unfailingly proud of her grandchildren. Everything we've done, even if she doesn't understand it, she's there cheering us on. She has read all of my books. She asks my sister about school. She knows everything about my cousin's hockey games.

I wish I was closer to my grandmother. I think everyone always wishes that, even when they're relatively close to begin with -- we are always wondering about what more would have done for us, if it would have been enough. I wish I could explain some things I know she doesn't understand, some choices I've made and why even though they might not have made sense at the time, they were good for me. They are good for me. But again, she doesn't need to understand to support and love me. And for that, I will always be grateful.

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