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.
Why do I wake while morning is still night?
I grope along endless caverns, it seems, descending many fathoms deep into memories of the past, and dreams of the future, my hand outstretched, a flickering candle in the curl of my fingers.
Journeys that – in the present light of day – I struggle to recall. And I am a tourist there, though I carry no passport and leave no footprints.
People whisper, muttering: “Oh, he looks tired. Something wrong with him?”
Yet I just smile because I know my pockets were sewn with fortune-thread. And I know I am the ragged onward-goer, the ever-forward marcher.
I remember easily the barefoot times – sand, grass, your bed sheets.
The nose has its own scrapbook, nerves and skin have their own photo album, tongues in mouths keep their own glittering secrets: the gems we sleep on, as if we were dragons,
or other beings more powerful than what we are.
I remember my mom yelling at my dad through the phone, and wondering when I might get to meet him. I remember meeting him, the sound of his laugh, the slope of his shoulder, how he rubbed his feet together at the end of the day, how he took the list my mom had made of everything I couldn’t eat and wadded it up and threw it away.
I remember meeting my son for the first time at age 16, how we hugged, how he walked with a swagger and reminded me of a cross between James Dean and my own father.
I remember “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac playing on my mom’s record player as I lay on the floor on my stomach trying to recreate illustrations of Garfield and Charlie Brown.
I remember meeting my grandfather and thinking his skin looked like alligator hide, and noticing the faded blue anchor stamped into the side of his upper arm, and how he laughed when I ate a hot pepper off the bush in his yard.
I remember marveling at a pregnant harvest moon while driving with my mom from Astoria to Portland at night in an old Audi Fox, how we talked and laughed and sang along with the tinny-sounding radio.
I remember the crippling crush I had on a girl i didn’t really know in my junior year, just hooked on her looks and the ideas I had about her in my teenage head.
I remember the first time I had a wet dream, waking confused to a damp sheet pressed against the heat of my thighs, my adam’s apple tight in my throat as I slipped out of bed in search of a cool drink of water.
Sure, wipe your face with the damp cloth of desperation, you’re human. But then toss it away and allow your cheeks to dry, at least for awhile. Ladle stew into your ceramic bowl, violet as dusk, pull your chair near the fire.
Look into memory as if opening the door to a room in a house of your own lost childhood. Don’t be afraid. Just observe with the will of an explorer, the daring of an athlete, the surrender of an artist. Leaf through the pages of the story. Your memories, heart, name. The shape of your clay.
Allow the memories to be memories, allow the heart to absolve itself, learn the meaning of your own name. Allow clay to be reshaped. Tether yourself to the tree that is truth to you.