My grandma Schnell was surely one of the most beautiful humans ever to walk this earth. I was fortunate enough to have had her in my life from the very beginning. There are pictures of her and I at my first family reunion in June of 1980: I, a swaddling child of about two weeks old and she, with her ever present dentured grin, holding me in her arms. She, the mother of my spirit, my teacher and my friend. This year will mark the fifth since her passing.
Grandma came to live with my parents, sister and I in my second year of University. My parents had conjoined two of our small Southwest bungalow’s bedrooms to make a larger suite for her to live. She moved in in the spring; her presence in our home brought much wisdom and joy.
When I ascended the stairs each day to quickly grab some food before heading to class, I would invariably find her in the kitchen with her customary single poached egg and piece of toast sitting next to the newspaper, which she read each morning front to back with her one good eye.
“Good morning, boy!” She said. Even when she was feeling ill, when her heart had slipped into an Arterial Fibrillation which got progressively worse as she got older, her voice revealed her genuine joy to have some morning company.
Some days I woke early so I could eat breakfast with her. I came up the stairs, and put some music on for us. I was surprised to find that she liked some of my music; on one occasion, she even danced to Beck’s Odelay as I clapped and giggled, urging her on to more exaggerated dance moves.
My grandmother’s mortal body was plagued from childhood; scarlet fever almost claimed her when she was young. That fever haunted her for the rest of her life; it caused irreparable damage to her heart, which forced her into surgery twice in her old age. Grandma confounded doctors, even the most optimistic of whom expected her to die years before she did; she was a walking miracle.
The pungent fragrance of oil of oregano followed my grandma wherever she went; she was into alternative medicine long before it was hip. She considered oil of oregano to be a cure all. She anointed herself with it every morning to relieve her arthritic fingers and stiff neck. Whenever she got a cold, she would add a few drops of the oil to a warm glass of water and gargle.
There were other herbal remedies too. Whenever I had a headache, she massaged my scalp, particularly my temples, with mint extract; in minutes, the pain would dissipate. If my father, an uncle or a cousin ever had a cough, my grandma invited them over and prepared a mustard plaster to loosen the mucous in their chest. She devoted her life to taking care of others.