A Letter to Grandma

Dear Grandma Betty,

I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.

You wore your heart on your sleeve.  You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies.  You were born on July 31st.  You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me).  You liked taking people out to lunch.  And you liked to talk…….a lot.

I remember meeting you for the first time.  The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school.  Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.

But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness.  I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom.  I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.

It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories.  I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’.  The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.

Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost.  There are so, so many.  And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close.  So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:

to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way.  And may yours help me light mine.

Knapsack

With Mother’s Day on one side and Memorial Day on the other, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom.  I can’t believe she’s been gone for 25 years.

This poem first appeared in 2014, in The Wayfarer Journal of Contemplative Literature.

 

Knapsack

It’s a shame

I don’t have the patience to garden,

my mother being who she was,

doing what she did with sunflowers

and lemon balm.

And with me being who I am-

a fine cook responsible

for so many glowing embers,

so many bubbling broths.

The memory of her is light enough

to take with me wherever I go,

propelled by the sea breeze,

pushed along by intimate hands,

drawn down muddy roads

slashed with the watercolors

of coming summer,

medicine wheels whirling

in my stumbling eyes.

 

Fudge

I came across the recipe in your old index card box, alphabetically misplaced between Fruitcake and Fritter Batter. “I miss you”, I said aloud as I measured out the sugar, butter, salt and evaporated milk. The cat looked at me expectantly, thinking – as he always does – that I was speaking to him. I combined the ingredients in a small pot, boiled and stirred them for five minutes. Outside, the sun tried its best to shine down on weeds turned brown from ice and frost.

I followed your handwriting with my eyes, blue ink letters across a 4 x 6 ruled index card. You had good penmanship, easy to read. The card must have been white when you wrote on it, but now it was a nameless color.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate, chopped walnuts, vanilla extract. “I wish I could hear your voice again” I thought, stirring vigorously for a full minute in compliance with your instructions. I loved you for exactly who you were. No labeling, no naming. Forget “woman”, forget “grandma”, forget “Ruth”.  Just the person you were, how you saw the world, how you expressed yourself, the light inside the bulb.

I thought about your losses while I poured the mixture into a pan lined with foil and set it in the refrigerator. You lost husbands, parents, your daughter, your brother. You lost them all and still you sang and danced, brewed coffee, fixed martinis, greeted everyone cheerfully, and followed this recipe just as I am doing now. All that loss, loss, loss, and still you stirred these ingredients every December, scraping them into an 8-inch square pan.

In a way, it is with your hands that I lift it from the pan once it’s chilled, because I do so in honor of your spirit. It is with your fingers that I cut the finished confection into little pieces. And it is with your heart of hearts that I display them on a platter, arrange them in a tin, or in little bags tied with ribbons, and give them away.