Baas had all these stories that she loved telling to get reactions. Her favorite was a not-so-subtle brag about her daughter; she loved bragging about her children and her grandchild, really. She had a few that I was privy to as family—for example, growing up her family had a goose named Napoleon that her father had to chop out of the frozen bathtub they had in their backyard every morning. (Perhaps having a bathtub, unique, in a backyard, was cause for embarrassment, not normal. Having lived with similar pecularities as a child with my own father I understood.) She had another where she and her classmates at Miss Porter’s got drunk accidentally off of fermented apple cider that they had left on the window sills for too long that I’m sure she probably didn’t write home about. Mostly, she legitimately just wanted to make everyone laugh. She was the only woman I have ever met who had been taught the art of conversation, and who used the phrase, “And we all howled with laughter!”
As she got older the stories began to repeat themselves and slowly, so slowly, as a family we came to understand she was ill. And we howled with laughter at the stories she told anyway, because that was what good grandchildren and children did.
Baas also talked a lot about Tanta, her grandmother, with great reverance. Tanta was the family artist; she painted, she sculpted, she gardened, was fluent in French. Tanta was the divine link connecting me and art, according to Baas anyway. Baas loved Tanta and spoke warmly and often of this woman that I could never possibly meet in my lifetime and who had died a long, long time ago.
I have been sad for months. Not always sad; not crying a great deal, not anything like that; just sad because of the reality of people getting old, and having the transition from child to adult as I watch adults become children and then infants. As Baas got older I became her au pair, occasional chaperone. For the briefest of moments I felt like a mother when I would sit by her side once she was very sick, unable to speak, legs swollen, bedridden.
(One thought that I cannot get out of my mind, watching the deterioration of my grandparents, has been that marriage is a pact to protect yourself against more frequent, terrible heartaches, in exchange for one terrible, horrific agonizing terrible unbelieveable pain at the very end.)
"She really lived for all of you," said Posey
Baas’ love for Tanta has not been alien or distant to me for a number of years now. Baas gave me my love for flowers and herbs and green, living things. She encouraged a study of art and history long before I could see the utility in it; she made sure that my sister I saw other parts of the world that she adored and that now we can adore because we’ve been given the chance to. She read vociferously, and surrounded me with books before I could even read them myself. She spent most of her life in public service, and was known for a chocolate chip cookie recipe that she stopped making in the 70s, and would complain about how she wasn’t allowed to cook with spices all the way down to salt if her husband was eating it. She had collected and read every news article and book on the Royal family ever published, and has left that collection to me, which I cannot even fathom. She smelled of lavender and green tea soap some L’Occitane. She took so many photos that the boxes overflowed a room in her house, and she took them of me, and my little sister, and my cousin, because she loved documenting us growing up. She loved me, and brought me to swim practices, and showed up to all of the terrible middle school band concerts, and fed me more times than I can count, and spoiled me beyond measure because she wanted my sister and I to have all of the things that she was unable to have growing up. The reality of her passing is inundating, and sometimes too scary for me to contemplate.
I love her so. I can only hope to inspire that same love for people who will never have the chance that I did to meet her, and know her, and love her as I did. I see the chain from her grandmother through her to me and it is impossible to be blind to the wonderful happenstance and intelligent design that meant we were able to be in the same space and time for the short time that it was. I am still learning about this kind of sorrow, and how to live with it, a weight I am growing stronger at carrying around. As my own quiet, private joke, I will occasionally tell the same story twice and end it with how we all howled with laughter while feeling so very, very lucky.