Editor’s note: I wrote this post based on conversations with my son Jack, and from observing the incredible love he has for his grandmother and his grandfather.
My Grandma is eighty one years old.
She was born in Italy. The year was 1938.
She is much shorter than I am.
She likes to cook and feed people.
She says words a little funny. For an example, if she tells you she is going to bake a cake it sounds like beck a ceck. And instead of air conditioning she says ara condish.
This is because she learned Italian before she learned our American language.
She makes very good meatballs.
She always has a smile in her eyes.
My grandma is a special person to me.
I don’t know how to tell her this. I don’t know how to tell her that I like the way she listens and answers my questions. She never gets tired of me like maybe other people do.
I am not sure if she knows about my autism. I never asked her. I don’t think she knows what autism is. Maybe it is not Italian.
She keeps Oreos in her cabinet for me to eat. She knows how much I love them.
At her house, I am comfortable. I lie on the couch and stretch out my legs. I watch my favorite shows on the television.
She sits next to me and she says, Jack, tell me.
Tell me about school.
Tell me about your job.
Tell me what you’d like to eat.
And I do.
I tell her school is okay. We are reading the Hunger Games and I listen to it on audio books and she says audio books! What is that, Jack?
I tell her it’s a way to hear the book because the letters on the page all scramble together in my eyes like ants at a picnic.
She says, good for you, Jack.
She says it doesn’t matter how the words are told, as long as I understand the story.
I tell her I like my job a lot and every week I stock the soda cooler and bring all the cardboard to the dumpster. Sometimes I set up tables and chairs.
My Grandma doesn’t drink soda. She drinks something called seltzer. For me, I do not like it. It has no taste on my tongue.
I love her stories. I ask to hear the same ones over and over again. How her family lived in a cave when the soldiers lived in her house during the war. The way her own mother loved the hottest peppers.
My family is big. I have five uncles and five aunts and nineteen cousins. This is a lot of people. When we all get together there is a lot of noise and big laughs and food.
But I don’t mind it. The noise is not like sharp and stinging in my ears. It is warm, and buzzing. It is gentle.
When you walk into my grandma’s house the first thing is you smell what she is cooking on the stove. Then my grandpa gets up from his chair with his glasses and he says hello very happy-like because he is always glad to see you.
Grandma wears a flowery apron over her clothes and she says, hello Jack.
She says it calm and soft. I bend down to hug her even though I don’t like hugging. But she does not ask me to hug her in a pointy voice the way some people do. She does not ask for me more than I can give.
There are lots of good snacks. Bread, cheese, and crackers. Olives which I do not like much and something called artichoke hearts which don’t look like a heart that is choking.
Here, I do not have to work so hard. Here, I can be me.
I can eat what I like and jump if I need to and ask all the questions in my brain.
They love me still. Even with all the questions and the jumping, they love me.
After maybe an hour, we eat dinner. Even if it’s only 1:00 on the afternoon, we still call it dinner. Not lunch.
When we are about to eat my grandma stands at the table and she puts pasta or raviolis into everyone’s dish and she passes it around.
In my house, we say plate. But my grandma says dish. This for me took time to understand they were the same thing, but now I know.
Grandpa says grace, where we thank the Lord for our food and I put my hands together and I smell the meatballs.
Then we can eat, and the whole time when we eat Grandma walks back and forth to the kitchen to get the things we forgot. Parmesan cheese, water with cold ice, salad dressing.
It is a routine, this meal. It is a ritual. It makes me feel warm and good because it is always the same.
After dinner Grandma takes a yellow pear and she peels off the skin and she slices it for me. I take big, sweet bites and it tastes like home.
Here, I am loved. This is an important thing.
My Grandma, maybe she doesn’t know about autism. But she knows me. For me, this is enough.
Everyone should have a grandma like mine. That’s what I think. Because it’s nice for someone in your life to smile, and give you some fruit, and say good for you.
Good for you, Jack.