Every year, Evie, my 87-year-old “adopted” grandmother, bakes me a heavenly, chocolate, birthday cake. “No slivers today” she would exclaim as she cut the biggest piece for me.
For the first ten years of my life, Evie was my next-door neighbor when my family and I lived in a condominium in Boston, Massachusetts. Now, I’m 16 years old, and my family and I live in a house in the suburbs, and Evie is settled in an assisted senior living center only 10 minutes away.
But, even as we live near each other, COVID-19 keeps us apart. At the senior living center, residents are isolated in their rooms, no gatherings in the dining room or meeting spaces, and limited visitors, but guests under 18 years old including me.
We can only call and FaceTime, which is difficult because Evie’s challenged with technology and has trouble hearing over the phone. It’s been over two months, and I miss Evie’s face as much as she misses mine.
Since I was a baby, Evie would hold my face in her hands and call me her “Shayna Punim,” which is Yiddish for “pretty face.” I’m Catholic, but I have learned about the Jewish religion from her.
We celebrate each other’s holidays together like Christmas and Hanukkah, which has given me a greater appreciation for different cultures and traditions. Evie taught me to treat everyone with respect.
Evie has traveled all over the world. She gave me her collection of postcards, and I cherish them. Someday, I will visit these places, too.
Sometimes young people think that old people are boring and can’t find common interests with them, but that’s not the case with Evie and me.
We love going out to restaurants, movies and museums. We also like cooking together, listening to Sinatra and Broadway records and playing board games. During these times, she shares stories with me about how she grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Evie was born in 1931, and she lived through The Great Depression and World War II. Her father was a blue-collar worker, and her mother stayed home; neither went to college. They did not have a car, so they walked everywhere.
But Evie never talks about a lack of material things; she’s always been content reading the newspaper and Jewish literature, whatever her dad was reading. Neither does she complain about her childhood chores like cleaning, cooking and sewing. She recalls how neighbors helped neighbors, and everyone watched out for each other.
She has fond memories of playing with all the kids on the street. They played the old-fashioned game of “kick the can” with whatever tin can was laying around. Evie laughed, “We didn’t need much, we were happy.”
Evie’s carefree attitude is calming and refreshing. She doesn’t want or expect presents, but she’s very thoughtful and giving. She sends cards, thank you notes and letters by snail mail, written in her fine, cursive. Evie has taught me to be grateful for the little things and reminds me of what’s most important in life: family, friends, love, laughter and kindness.
Evie worked as a nurse at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston for many years. After she retired, she continued to do some volunteer work there. She has always been a caregiver, but now she needs people to help take care of her.
She has cardiac and respiratory issues and diabetes, which makes her more vulnerable to COVID-19. She’s the reason why I stay home, wash my hands and follow social distancing guidelines. If the roles were reversed, she would do anything to keep me healthy.
I long for the day when the pandemic ends, and I can safely visit Evie again. When she turns 88 on her next birthday, I’ll bake her a cake. And we’ll enjoy eating it together.
“Evie and Me: A Special Grandmother” was written by Maxwell Surprenant as part of the Write the World Civics in Action project, a collaboration that includes Parentology, the National Children’s Campaign and Facing History & Ourselves.