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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chasing memories of grandmother

By Treena Shapiro

While other kids were collecting baseball cards in the 1970s, I apparently preferred snapping up "Grease" trading cards.

I bought enough packs to secure all the prized pieces I needed to complete a Danny Zuko puzzle, glued them together on a piece of paper and labeled the whole thing with creative spelling so my Grandma Shapiro would know I was giving her a treasure that featured my favorite actor.

I wouldn't have remembered the "Grease" card obsession, but my grandmother saved the cards, along with every drawing, photograph and piece of writing I'd ever given her, all carefully tucked away to remind her (and me) of the girl I had been.

On a recent trip to the Mainland, I couldn't help but think about my grandmother frequently as we passed places she'd lived, worked, spent time with her family and, just over a year ago, been laid to rest next to my grandfather. It was the first time I'd been to Los Angeles when she wasn't there to greet us, but I could feel her presence everywhere, even after we left L.A. and drove to Las Vegas. For no reason other than nostalgia, the kids and I wandered through the hotel on the Las Vegas Strip where four generations of Shapiros had gathered a few years ago to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday.

We were supposed to end our vacation with a few days in a posh Las Vegas suite with a gourmet kitchen stocked with groceries from Trader Joe's. All was going according to plan until my son stuck a quiche into a microwave. The smell of the quiche triggered happy memories of the mini quiches my grandmother used to serve when the family gathered at her house, along with conversations I'd had with my grandmother over the little frozen appetizers.

The kids were still eating when I informed them we were checking out early to drive more than 200 miles back to Los Angeles so I could honor my grandmother in a way that only she and I could appreciate. The kids were mildly baffled, but accepted we weren't returning home until I'd visited a mechanical shark. We were back in L.A. in enough time to get a decent night's rest before heading to Universal Studios for our last vacation day.

My memories of my first trip to Universal Studios in the '70s have always been vague, but my grandmother loved reminding me about the time she and I left everyone behind to watch a holiday football game while the two of us went to the nearly deserted theme park. My only clear memories are of my grandmother and Jaws, the shark who terrified me so much that I think my panic traumatized my grandmother, who had to convince me that the mechanical shark wasn't really going to attack me.

She eventually managed to comfort me, and this time it was Jaws' turn. I snapped a photo when he emerged from the water, but the only memory I really needed was that of my grandmother wrapping her arms around me to protect me from that same shark decades before.