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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

A Tribute to MomMom

In the last few years of my grandmother, Mary Gaspar's, life she told me it was her dream to write a book. She was the queen of telling the most captivating unique stories that anyone has ever heard. With a 'don't-fuck-with-me' attitude and collected demeanor, my mom mom was a woman of great strength whom I admired endlessly. It was her charm that made you like her, but it was her mischievousness and free spirit that made you love her. Mom mom passed away exactly a year ago today. If one thing is true, it is that grief is impossible to navigate and even more surreal to understand.

A bluejay perched itself on our lawn chair today. My mom noticed it first. Immediately, I had a thought about what it might mean. But, because I was afraid of evoking difficult feelings in my parents and sister, I almost didn't voice it. However, the thought continuously tickled the back of my head and I knew I had to say it out loud. "Not to be delulu, but do you think that bird is mom mom?" This is verbatim how I said too, I wish I could say I had been more eloquent.

What does a bluejay represent? According to A-Z Animal, a blue jay symbolizes "bold expression and trickery." My grandmother was always unrelentingly bold; the only person I have ever known to captivate a table full of several children and hold their attention with her storytelling and wit. If I inherited even a fraction of her gift for speaking, I would be lucky. Trickery, however, reminds me of the more vulnerable and real side of the her. The one that you had to really see her to understand. She used to wink at me as she distracted my parent's while I pulled gumdrops off of her Christmas-time gumdrop tree. The wink was how you knew you were someone special to her. It was never something I took for granted.

The bluejay sat, posed before us, for thirty minutes before we decided to investigate. We walked down our porch steps and towards the lawn chair, careful not to make any starting sounds. When we were close enough, I took a picture. On the porch, our dog barked to get our attention. I turned my head back for exactly a split second and immediately looked back toward the bluejay. In that split second, the bird had vanished. We all looked at each other and went "you all just saw that, right?" Now, I know that mom mom came to say hello, and in her classic style, disappeared as soon as she caught our attention.

Mary Gaspar never finished that book. She did, however, let me read the first few pages she had typed. When she read them out in her voice, I felt like I was there with her in Hoboken, New Jersey, the youngest of five kids by at least ten years. I remember telling her, I hope you finish it. I was thinking to myself that having those stories written down would mean I would never forget them. I could always hear them in her voice, the way she would tell them.

I'll write down some important things about her now so that you can know how truly special she was. Mary liked her pizza thin and burnt so that it was extra crispy. She drank vodka on the rocks at home, or a martini with olives when she went out. She was an absolute boss at Bridge, playing weekly, and taking home everyone's money. Her hair was always pixie short and platinum blonde. She always told me that it was her goal to make it to my wedding. Maybe she didn't quite gauge how far off that was for me (lol). I know that when that time comes, she will be there in every bluejay I see, every martini I drink, and every story I tell.

Love you, mommom.

-Ali

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