I only have a few pictures of my grandmother, Fleeta.
We have different noses, but as I've stared at those images, I can see her brown hair, hooded eyelids and fleshy cheeks were just like mine. She was sturdy and round in the middle, but not quite fat. And she looked soft, like if I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed, it might have felt something like a pillow, comforting and huggable.
As a child, I equated happiness with roundness. I used to say that I wanted to be fat and round when I became a grandmother so my grandchildren could bury themselves in my arms and not worry about hurting me. I thought I would wear a muumuu and be jolly and content and the grandkids would love me as their favorite.
My mother's mother, Grandma Mohler, was as skinny as a string bean.
She was the only grandparent I ever knew. Her first husband died when I was too young to remember him, and her second husband died several years after that. Both of my father's parents died before I was born, so Grandma was everything my siblings and I had — and we were all she had for grandchildren, too. My mom's only brother didn't have kids.
My grandma was kind, but she was very reserved. She played bridge every week until she moved into the rest home in her late 80s, and then some. She was a lifelong member of the local country club and a member of a quasi-secret sorority. She was quiet but opinionated. She never allowed a speck of dirt in her house — or anyone in the kitchen when she was cooking.
She was so thin, frail even, that when I hugged her, I could feel the knobs in her spine and the bones in her rib cage with my hands. She was always interested in what we did, and she always told us she loved us — although she could never hide her disapproval.
She wasn't a Mormon, and she thought it was strange that my siblings and I went on lengthy missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She wasn't a huge fan of my father, either. She said something about him once when I was visiting during Thanksgiving break in college and I yelled at her.
I felt terrible afterward, but my grandma still loved me and supported me in her own way.
In a perfect example of her way of doing things, this week, in the middle of a badly needed spring cleaning, I opened some boxes I'd forgotten about and found a note she wrote me when I was in college and had just gotten engaged to be married before I planned to graduate.
"Dear Amy," she wrote. "You are our baby. Marriage is a lifetime commitment. I recommend a college degree and then a marriage certificate. I love you honey, Grandma."
With the note was a check for $100 that I never cashed because the plans fell through within weeks. But I kept the note and the check as a reminder of how much she still loved me, as insolent as I'd been all of those years before, as bad as I'd been at keeping in touch since.Comment on this story
She died three years after she wrote me that note — at 95 years old.
It is interesting, as frail as my Grandma Mohler looked, that it turned out that she was very sturdy indeed. And as different as her personality may have been to my Grandma Fleeta, I can't help but think that Fleeta would have written the same thing, if she'd ever had the chance.
For that, I know Fleeta must have been grateful, no matter the circumstance, to know there was someone loving and looking out for her granddaughter, doing the things she couldn't do.
For the record, so am I.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer at the Deseret News. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. In this column, she writes about family history and her quest to understand the mysteries of life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.