–by Venice R. Williams

In some ways, I had been preparing for these days most of my adult life. I just did not fully understand it until my 98-year-old grandmother, Ora, arrived at our home for a two-week visit.

My excitement about her stay spilled over into everything I did during the 10 days or so leading up to her time with us. I cleaned, rearranged, shopped, missed meetings and told whomever was around me, even strangers in the grocery store line: “My grandma is coming to town!” I knew I sounded like a 6-year-old girl, but I did not care!

My Uncle Wade was driving her from Battle Creek, Michigan, where she lives with his family. His wife was scheduled to have hip surgery. They would be better able to focus on her recovery if someone else could care for Grandma. Of course, those were not their words. I don’t imagine they would have ever asked. They shouldn’t have to ask. I jumped at the opportunity to care for this woman who had poured so much of herself into my being—being a woman, a mother, a gardener, an advocate, a Christian, a child of God. It was time for me to pour back into her some of the bountiful goodness with which she had nourished me.

The moment she stepped into my kitchen, she was transported back to another time. “Mama’s kitchen?” she asked. It was not confusion that could be attributed to her dementia, so overwhelming at times. It was a question that arose from seeing the wooden table, the herbs hanging, the pots on the stove, the jars filled with rice, beans and dried herbs, the tea kettle steaming, the bowls of potatoes and onions, the feelings and the aromas in the air. The kitchen in which she grew up, a magical space culti­vated by her mother (my great-grandmother), Nellie, was the inspiration for my own kitchen. I cannot remember a time I stepped into Great Grandma Nellie’s kitchen when a pot of beans was not simmer­ing, women were not chattering and fresh greens/herbs/carrots/potatoes were not being chopped at the wooden table. To have my grandmother enter my kitchen and wonder whether she was in her own mother’s kitchen brought me to tears of joy.

“No,” she said with certainty. “Mama is dead. This is not Mama’s kitchen.” She was not talking to me, but simply putting it all together. “Mama would love this kitchen. I love this kitchen.”

For the remainder of the two weeks, our morn­ing ritual would be the same. After I got her up, washed and dressed for the day, my grandmother would make her way downstairs, pausing at the portal to our kitchen. “Mama’s kitchen?” she would say hesitantly. A bit of heaviness would enter her voice. “No. Mama is dead.” Then her tone would brighten. “This is Venice’s kitchen. Oh, Venice, I love your kitchen.”

This article is excerpted from the September 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.