I wish I had a better one.

I wish I could tell you all the stories of my grandmother’s life. Because they are great stories. How her parents met in Italy and traveled to the States. How she grew up in Erie. Her life with her brothers and sisters. Meeting my grandfather. Being the hatcheck girl at one of the Italian clubs. Her life as a wife and mother.

I know that my grandmother has told me all of these stories.

I wish I had listened better, or remembered more.

Because she can’t tell me those stories any more.

She doesn’t remember them. She can’t tell them to me.

Driving over to my mother’s house one night this weekend, she asked my mom, “Who’s watching your children?”

My mother said, “I don’t have children living at the house anymore, mom. Except for my husband.”

My grandmother laughed and laughed.

She does not seem to be sad. For that we are grateful. She has forgotten how to knit; she has forgotten how to play cards, except for King’s Corners, and she needs a lot of help to even play that. She can’t really read, because she can’t remember what she read. She can’t cook anymore.

Now that is a true tragedy, because as a pure Italian one generation removed from the Old Country, my grandmother knew how to cook. One thing I will never forget is her easy acceptance of my vegetarianism. She cooked for me before my mother deigned to. And she told me the stories of what she grew up eating.

“We never ate a lot of meat,” she would say. “Just once in a while.” Read: when the money was okay, we could have meat. Otherwise: peppers on Italian bread, polenta, tomato sauce, homemade pasta, pasta fagiole, ravioli with cheese… Oh, how she talked about food.

She was a baker, too, and no holiday or family wedding was complete without Grandma’s cookies: lady locks so flaky they melted in your mouth, pizzelles, Italian knots, biscotti, apricot-filled fold-overs — the list goes on and on. Thank goodness my mother has the recipes. I look forward to the day she passes them down to me.

Although I really should learn to bake first.

Today is my grandmother’s 90th birthday. We celebrated this weekend at my parents’ house. Most of my generation of grandchildren were there. She seemed confused, and got tired very quickly.

But when they brought out the cake, she smiled and clapped and sang along. And had a nice helping of cake and ice cream.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I know you may not remember your day. But I always will.

I love you.

Your first grandchild (and your favorite!),