“How are things at the house?” Maga asked.

“Very busy, but in a good way.”

“What are the ages of [Sister J’s] kids again?”

“7.5, 5.5, and 2.5.”

“Oh my. That is busy indeed. My kids were a bit more spaced out.”

“What are the age ranges?”

“C and J are 3 years apart. J and D are 3.5 years apart. And D and T are 4.5 years apart, so it wasn’t too crowded all at once.”

“Both sets have their advantages. And how was your Christmas?”

“It was okay. J and P came by for lunch. The food wasn’t anything special. And the day before S and F took me out to dinner.”

“S is Aunt J’s friend, right?”

“Yes. They are one day apart.”


“Yes. Fairly early on, I saw S’s mother and I said to her, ‘You look like I feel’ and she admitted she was pregnant.”

As I pondered the ways women shared pregnancy news sans social media, Maga continued her story. “She went into the hospital and when I went the next day, I ran into her room and said, “I’m here. Let’s see what happens.”

What happened was a lifetime of friendship between mothers and daughters. So much so that they are still spending holidays together. It’s a lovely blurry line between family and friends.



“But it’s Monday,” Maga said in lieu of a hello.

“I know, but I have a guest coming over tomorrow and I didn’t want to miss out on talking with you.”

“How do you know this friend? College?”

“She went to college with my high school friend and then we were roommates my first year up here.”

“Did she work at the same job as you?”

“Nope. We have a mutual friend and the three of us were roommates my first year in Boston.”


“How has your week been going?” I asked.

“I’m lonely. My family lives so far away.”

“I understand that! My family is too far, too.”

“I have [Aunt J] and I see her every other day. Maybe every day, but everyone else is too far. My boys live in TX and CA, you know.”

“I know. But they could travel more to see you. Like how my mom does.”

“Oh, yes, your mom is so good at that. We had such a lovely visit when she was here. She and your dad took me for a drive to check out all the Christmas lights.”

“I love Christmas lights! That must have been so beautiful.”

“It was.”

“What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?”

“The Christmas hymns, songs. When I had access to a piano, I played them.”

The piano in her house was a focal point because (a) it was beside a floor to ceiling window and (b) had a family photo from 1983 that has NOT weathered well. Too much sunlight has left us all with yellow rings around our eyes. We affectionately refer to it as the zombie family portrait. My uncles would often pound out a song or two, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Maga play. The image of her seated there playing my favorite music (yes, I’m a Christmas carol lover) (hi) caught my breath.

“Are you still there?” Maga asked.


“I wasn’t sure with the silence.”

“I’m here. I’m here.”

“When do you think you’ll be here next.”

(Sly devil, Maga.) “For your birthday, definitely.”

“You will?! How wonderful.”

“I know. I’m excited. It’s so lovely there in March.”

“Who else will be coming?”

“I imagine my mom will. It’ll be a mother mother daughter daughter trip.”

I hope Maga’s soft chuckle blew away some of the loneliness surrounding her tonight.




“Do you have any upcoming travel plans?” Maga asked.

“Just to Mom/Dad’s for Christmas.”

“Will [Sister J] and Abby be there?”

“Well, I’m Abby, so yes, in fact, I will be there.”

“Oh. Yes. Right.”

“You meant [Sister E]. And yes, she will be there too.”

Maga laughed. “Yes, that’s who I meant.”

“Don’t worry. Everyone confuses our names.”

“So I’m not the only one?”

“Nope. You’re in good company.”

We went round and round about the age gap between Sister E and me (“your mother was brave to have a baby that late in life”), the weather in NE (“you get a lot of moisture up there”), my parents’ recent visit to CO (“they’re such nice people”), their delayed departure (“poor dears”), and my job + how long I’ve worked there (“you are a good employee”) + how many people work with me (“it’s that many?”).

She gets extra forgetful when there’s a change (aka my parents leaving) or some big emotion (sadness), but tonight’s conversation consisted of me doubling back over topics before we’d even reached the end of one. So, yes, dear reader, I admit that during all that repetition and trying to think of different ways to say the same thing, I started keeping track of how often she said certain things: pleasant (5x), nice (17x), and good (8x).

It wasn’t my finest moment as a granddaughter, but maybe the words didn’t matter so much as the company we kept…



“What’s the weather like there?” Maga said.

“Raining, but warm.”

“No snow yet?”

“No, thank goodness. It doesn’t usually snow heavily until late in December or early in the new year.”

“I find as I get older I hate the snow. It’s not as fun as when I was younger and could go sledding.”

“Uh, when was the last time you went sledding?”

“Good gosh. Probably 30-40 years ago.”

“Makes sense.”

“What have you been up to lately?”

I took a deep breath. “Well, I need some advice.”

“Okay. Go ahead.”

“My boss is out on vacation and there’s this big meeting tomorrow that I’ll have to attend in his absence. I’m so nervous.”

“Write down a list of the things you want to say and do so you don’t forget. And think about it ahead of time so you know what you want to figure out at the meeting.”

Those are both things I do / will do / have planned to do, so this advice is right up my alley. And before I could ask her for anything further…

“Your mother and father are coming to visit Thursday.”

And just like that, we were back where Maga controlled the topics.

“Yes, they are! What sort of stuff do you have planned for when they visit?”

“Well, not much. I am 96 you know. They will stay at the house and probably clean it out. They cleaned out a lot before I just found out. I hate losing things.”

“But you’re not losing the memories.”

She may have been in control of the topics, but I was able to focus her attention where it mattered.

“Tuesdays are always a bright spot in my life because you call,” she said.

And just like that Maga reminded me that no matter if it was little details or big stories, our calls contained conversations that were evenly balanced.