To have a bad memory is a writer’s curse and perhaps a grand daughter’s curse too. Sometimes I think that if I could step through the threshold of my grandmother’s apartment just once more, it would all come gushing out. All of it. The smells. The words that passed between us. The stories. I remember the cool darkness in the heat of the summer. Windows closed and shades drawn to keep out the heat. My grandmother’s life was orderly and tidy (for the most part) so it was easy to negotiate through dim light.
My grandmother was older than my grandfather, by a few weeks. Sometimes my young mind gave this fact credence to their failed love. They barely shared words. Unspoken, I was my grandmother’s ally. Did this rob me of a deeper relationship with my grandfather? For no good reason I was afraid of him. One of my earliest memories of him or maybe it was the repeated stories I heard were of my grandfather cradling me in his arms and singing, “Ba-Ba Black Sheep” gently in my ear. He was a tender man, but later sadly, I kept my distance.
Together alone, my grandparents' days were dimmed by their silence, as they rambled through rooms on opposite sides of the apartment. There are some things that are hard to forget.
Today marks my grandmother’s 122nd birthday. It is my hope that those accumulated years have helped two souls gain wisdom, understanding and healing to find the peace and love they both deserve.
Over a plate of beans, our eyes met. His hair tousled from an afternoon nap. I felt the corner of my eyes knit together as I smiled. My husband, his plate full of beans before him was in heaven. On our way home from an afternoon of boating, swimming and napping we decided to go to an old fashioned “Comfort Food Church Supper.” Inside a long table held beans in crock pots, a macaroni and cheese casserole and salads. At the far end of the table were homemade yeast rolls tucked inside a linen towel. We sat at a round table draped with red checks and adorned with delicate yellow flowers. We ate; watching the church ladies pass a baby with big cheeks and a hearty cry from arm to arm. Others swiped the tables clean, bringing stacks of dirty dishes to the back kitchen. As I sipped a mug of coffee, I thought of how life orchestrates a great symphony of moments. Who knew Saturday night beans could hold such memories? We’ll be back in a month.
These days it seems like we are perpetually preparing. I guess it comes with age. The deck needs replacing, a new roof here and there, and vegetables need to be harvested. Yet it is not these tasks, but the life altering changes that challenge. Conversations lately include phrases like, “When we retire…” Frankly, retirement is frightening to me. Right now, I feel like I am vital to my workplace and am decades from being ready to retire For over thirty years, I have devoted my life to education and defined myself as teacher. That is all I know.
Only recently have I expanded the definition of myself. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, wife, mother. Now, with a bit of reluctance and hesitation I define myself as a creator; that is I am a photographer, writer and artist. With the years have come the wisdom that springs from knowing that the essence of who I am is so much deeper and larger than merely my occupation. Cultivating my creative side has given me voice and purpose.
There are days when I wonder what I will do. What will I do when the house is quiet with Jerry and I roaming through the house alone hearing the dog’s nails as they click on the hardwood floor. We will eat, in silence. (A comfortable silence that comes with living with someone for most of your life.) Now our conversations are mostly about our children. We will have time to read the piles of books that have made their way into our house and not have to consciously schedule time to read amongst busy-ness. We will approach each day with a quiet that comes with retirement. It will be alright.
While I roam the forest, I will be absorb energy that comes with captivating the wonder of the world; preserving the emotion and tone of the moment on film. I will go home and the words that have been tumbling gently in my head will spill out on paper. I will feel whole. Fulfilled that the days in preparation have been well spent; sifting through the years of responsibility to find the authenticity of who I really am and the essence of who I am meant to be.
My hand shifts position and my finger presses the delete button, a few too many times. I am nervous. Worried that the words won’t come to express what emotions are prompted by the image of my daughter writing; writing under the shade of a tree with the full sun leaving a wavy patch of light on the street. For weeks she has been writing song lyrics.
We pushed through the door, stepping over the cement step and into the classroom. It was summer. A great day to cool ourselves on the ledges of Echo Lake or the rough waters of Sand Beach, instead we both stood in the middle of a classroom ready for Summer School. That first year, I remember the feeling of dread that settled in the pit of my stomach. As a teacher I had a good idea of just how far behind my daughter was in her learning. I was concerned. She had a rough start and since coming to our family she had spent more hours with Developmental Therapists, Speech Clinicians and other professionals in the square little rooms cooled by fans than she did building castles in the sand and blowing bubbles in the lake. The commitment to support her early on, I hoped would pay off engaging her in a life fulfilled as a reader and a writer.
She used to carry around heavy chapter books that were way beyond her abilities. I thought then that maybe this was a way of belonging in her peer group, but now I tend to think that this was a reminder of the pact that she made to herself; to not settle, to keep working hard. She has worked her way out. It is only because of her grit and determination that she is where she is today. This girl is tenacious. Now she carries thick heavy books with her when we go out to eat, when we go to sporting events and when we travel. She reads on the couch, while floating in a pool, and in the middle of busy restaurants.
My daughter is a reader and a writer. This is the summer that we have traveled, spent long hours at camp and floated in the pond together. This summer we have sat side by side and read and we have also sat side by side and written. We have sat in cafes together sipping oversized cups of chai and coffee which fueled our creation.
Yes. This image is magnificent and stretches beyond my earlier imaginings. It makes me happy. Very happy.