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2003-02-19 - 11:59 p.m.

My grandmother died early on Saturday morning, while I was on an overnight bus from Arequipa to Cuzco. I found out around 11 am when I checked email, after napping, and eating breakfast, and confirming my flights for that Monday. To say I was shocked was an understatement - I think we all were. I don't think anyone really believed that my grandmother could die.

I spent the rest of the day trying to book flights to Florida. First, I talked to a Continental Airlines representative, who got me on a flight that night from Lima to Houston, and then to West Palm Beach - she was exceedingly helpful, especially after I started sobbing on the phone. The problem was that I wasn't in Lima - I was in Cuzco. From there, it was on to the AeroContinente office, to try and fly to Lima that day. But all their flights to Lima had already left. When I pressed (and started crying again), they called another airline, and found out that there was one more flight leaving to Lima that day, in an hour. I raced back to the hotel, packed my bags, paid, and was at the airport with 25 minutes to spare. The airline let four people on ahead of me, but ran out of room. I couldn't get on the plane. So it was back to the hotel to drop off my bags, and back to the AeroContinente office, who booked me on the first flight the next morning. I called Continental Airlines again, but their next flight wasn't until Sunday night, at midnight, which meant that I wouldn't get to Florida until after the funeral (Monday at 1:30 pm). Finally, I found a travel agency that actually had a computer, to book a flight directly to Miami. There was one direct flight from Lima to Miami that I could make, leaving at 11:30 the next day, but then the system went down. I checked back every hour for the next three hours (in between a frantic shopping spree - four months in South America, and I had neglected to buy a thing), but the system never came back up. I had to buy my ticket the next day at the airport, from a surly 19 year old who wanted to do absolutely nothing to help me. First she told me that the flight was booked - when I asked to be put on the waiting list, she rolled her eyes and finally called someone to see if that was possible. Turns out there were seats on the plane after all - after half an hour of hemming and hawing, she finally booked my ticket.

I arrived in Miami at 5 pm on Sunday night, so jubilant over actually getting there, that I had almost forgotten the reason that I came. I think it hit me the next morning, when Grandma wasn't in the kitchen, drinking coffee, doing the crossword, and saying, "What do you want to do today? Whatever you want to do, we'll do." It just doesn't seem right that she's not here. She should be here.

I'm at a loss as to what to say about her. My sister Danielle wrote something for the funeral that describes her better than I could.

"You don't love cars," my grandmother told me, as I proudly described my recently purchased first car to her - a beat-up '78 Monte Carlo. I had told her I was in love with it. But my grandmother was full of aphorisms and cheeky advice. There wasn't a situation you could present to her that she couldn't give you advice for it, and in the off-chance she couldn't satisfy you with her words, she'd comfort you with a shrug of the shoulders and a New York accented, "What are you gonna do?"

Grandma Bobby was full of comforting things, ideas, words, phrases. She was nothing if not dependable. You knew who she was. There would be "oy vey"'s and "oy gevalt"'s. There would be good food - noodle kugel, rugalach, the famous sour cream chocolate chip cake, and hard candies in between. You would always be her "Madame Foo Foo" or "Little Potato" - because boring terms of endearment weren't good enough. Her hair would always be in place, always so stylish and never succumbing to a lack of stylishness that could be excused by age. Grandma was always hip. Always on top of things, always topical.

But she was a Grandmother, too. She'd fuss over her grandchildren, always telling us she loved us, randomly humming pieces of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof while she made us food or set the table. She taught me so much - more games than anyone else knows how to play. "You should marry someone you can play games with," she said. Advice I'll certainly follow - it worked for her and my grandfather.

I'll miss holding her hand crossing the street. I'll miss her two different sized feet, her skinny legs that held her up until the end. I'll miss hearing her call "Len!" from across the house (still fodder for me and my siblings favorite grandmother impressions). I'll miss her hugs. I'll miss waking up to the smell of her coffee - coffee that led me to the kitchen, still sleepy-eyed, to find her working on the morning crossword.

"Danielle, you don't love cars. You don't love things," she continued after I finished gloating over my new rusted purchase. "You love people." And she did.

I'll be in Florida for a while, at least the next two weeks or so. My siblings left yesterday, and my father left tonight, so it's just me and my grandpa, with my aunts and cousins coming by during the day, and neighbors dropping by constantly, always carrying plates of food. "One in a million," they keep on saying. "She was one in a million." And she was.

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