Tuesday, March 11, 2014

on being stupid

 Someone recently took me to task for an old post that somehow trickled up again into her interwebs:
I clicked on this link from a FB post this morning. As a mother of 4 girls, I enjoy reading other mother’s insights about raising daughters. However I was immediately put off by the contempt in the tone “And I am a little worn, a little weary lately, watching some stupid mothers and others hating on the beautiful young teenage women they have under their care.” Not every mother has it all together all the time and they are not necessarily hateful or stupid. One of the best lessons we can teach our daughters is to uplift one another rather than tear each other down with judgement and name calling.
Can I talk about the things I hate?

I hate feeling sorry for something I don't feel sorry for saying.

I hate the idea that we have to have it all together all the time just to avoid doing really egregious kinds of damage to each other.  Sorry, I rammed my truck into your garage door and chased your chickens around the back yard until they dropped dead, I was just really having a bad day.

I hate that a perfectly useful word ("stupid") has been tabooed.  Some things are just stupid.  Leaving your hoe on the ground so that you bean yourself when you tread on the blade?  Stupid.  Spitting into the wind?  Stupid.  Telling our daughters or sons in public that they're slutty, hopeless, an embarrassment, a mistake?  That's pretty stupid. Because it doesn't work.  Because it makes them more that way.  Because it makes you look even worse to the people witnessing.  Because it's lazy parenting.  Because it causes more damage than good.  Because it's just stupid.

But then I have to ask myself, just how stupid?  As stupid as calling someone stupid when you want to convince them to change?

I hate how I keep trying to talk myself around to accommodate this responder.  Because obviously something touched a nerve for her.  Did she feel I was calling her stupid and hateful? Because maybe she has said and done some of those hateful things?  Because in my own hearing parents have said and done things that I think a broad committee of citizens would even today be able to agree are hateful words and hateful actions.  Because I myself --?


Well, haven't I?  Have I ever spoken with contempt to a child in my care?  Have I rolled my eyes?  Have I broken my own advice?  Yes, I have.

And it was stupid to have done it.
I don't say it with contempt, but in painful recognition.
It was really stupid.


And if I'm an adult, I should be able to read stupid as stop.

As in, if I don't want to be stupid anymore, I'm going to have to just stop spitting and I'm going to have to start putting the hoe away where it belongs.  Because as adults, we can recognize stupidity in ourselves and separate ourselves from it.  Separate it out of our ongoing actions. 

I admit this response has bugged me. And I keep catching myself stewing over it.  Is it because I hate being accused of name-calling?  I do hate that.  Maybe I hate that accusation because it's true and so it stings.  I do want to name things.  I want to call things for what they are.  I want to know the real names of things.  I know in my home I correct children who call themselves "stupid."  I make them re-say it as "still learning."  I tell them it's a truer name.

So would it have been better if I'd said, "those still-learning parents who are saying and doing really unpleasant and damaging things to their children"?  Maybe that would have been more compassionate.  For the parents.  And parents need compassion (for example, must we really "wholeheartedly blame the mother" of the Sandy Hook killer?  Why is it always the mother we wholeheartedly blame?  I hate that.)

But would "still- learning" instead of "stupid" have been more effective?  Or just nicer?  Or just more words and boring ones at that?

Because I still hate this thing we keep trying to do to language, trying to take all the crunch out of everything we say.  The smoothieification of language.  Like the way we've started slipping kale into the blender with a banana and some orange juice, instead of just learning to eat kale like grown-ups with a little vinegar and bacon fat and pepper to boot.

Maybe that's the root of what I hate -- that we're turning into a whole society of children who don't know how to get past yelling ugly names at each other from one side of the playground to the other, that we're stuck on the island with the Lord of the Flies and no adults to take responsibility any more, no grown-ups to say, "That was stupid of me.  I'm sorry.  Here, let's try it again.  Because we're all still learning."



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

conversation with the biking-body

I had a little chat with the biking-body today.

We both agreed it had been far too long.  And that it was great to see each other once again.

"This air is great!" cheered the biking-body and praised my foresight in wearing fingerless wooly gloves and a toasty earband under the helmet.  I complimented her steady pacing even after four month's dormancy.

On the long sloping climb toward the fairgrounds though we had a little falling out.

"You're killing me!" I gasped.

"Breathe," she said.  "Come on, all the way out."

"I can't!" I gulped.

"It would've been better if you'd given me more of a warning you were showing up today," said the biking-body.

"I told you I was coming back this week!"

"Words," she sniffed.  "Not really my love language.  Keep breathing."

We made it to the downhill.  "You're going to be a little crampy after this," she warned.

"Tell me about it."

Neither of us are completely clear on the connection between leg cramps and lactic acid build-up, dehydration, potassium and/or carb deficiencies but we agreed that lunge stretches were going to be a good idea several times between now and bedtime.  And a banana or potatoes might be not be a bad idea.

"Why don't you slow down a little," she said.  "What's your hurry anyway?" So I eased up a little and shook back the shoulders to take a look around.  She pointed out how much brighter everything looks from a bicycle saddle and I agreed that our little town has an added charm when seen through an endorphin haze.

We ran through the morning's errands (which were somehow so much easier to accomplish).  We waved at happy strangers.  We grinned into the wind.

"Welcome home," she said.

"Good to be back," I said.

"See you tomorrow," said the biking-body, "Don't be such a stranger."



Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013: a year in books


This isn't everything I read in 2013.  And not all of these count as best books.  But these are the books whose reading mattered most to me this past year.


Book of MercyBook of Mercy, Leonard Cohen.  Unpaged. 
This slim book of prose poems are modern psalms that never settle for the easy insufficiencies.  Some cry in despair, some roar in anger and those that achieve praise arrive at the heights of the sublime honestly. 

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett. 353 pages. 
A thoughtful novel set in an ethnobotanist's camp in the Brazilian Amazon.  The visiting pharmacologist whose eyes we see through witnesses horrors and miracles as she tries to solve the mystery of her colleague's death while uncovering the mysteries of being female in a changing world.  
Natural Fashion
A Quiet Revolution

Natural Fashion: tribal decoration from Africa, Hans Walter Silvester.  167 pages.
This collection of photographs of the Omo people of Ethiopia celebrates the human instinct for ornament.  With 160 illustrations, nearly a picture per page, this book shows an exuberant natural tradition we all share.

Monstrous Regiment and Soul Music, both novels of Discworld, Terry Pratchett.  405 and 373 pages.  
 Brilliant comic fantasy that sheds its clarifying light on life's lingering questions and our day's most vexing puzzles.  Pratchett is the master: a philosopher and a clown in equal measure.  Eventually I will have read all of Pratchett and then I'll have to wait until a failing memory allows me to read them all afresh.  Also The Light Fantastic, 216 pages; Mort, 243 pages; Pyramids, 323 pages; Wyrd Sisters, 265 pages; Guards! Guards!, 355 pages; the Fifth Elephant, 389 pages; Interesting Times,  368 pages; Thief of Time, 378 pages.

A Quiet Revolution: the veil's resurgence from the Middle East to America, Leila Ahmed, 352 pages.
Alif the UnseenFaithI'm including this book among the year's reads even though I had to return it before finishing.  The first half is incredibly interesting -- what the veil means for women who choose to veil, how the meaning of the veil has shifted.  In 2015 I look forward to taking this solidly researched book written by a smart and liberal Muslim woman to its end and reading the promised "surprising conclusions"  about the place of Islam in today's world.

Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson. 431 pages.
Modern Islamic techno/sci-fi thriller written by a female Western convert to Islam and set during the time of the Arab Spring.  It's a great read for plot alone but intriguing, too, for its picture of the modern Middle East and its Muslim view of reality.  The language can be realistically rough but the writing is evocative and clear, the story satisfying and surprisingly deep.

Faith, Jennifer Haigh.  318 pages.
Free-range Chicken GardensA novel about trust and betrayal, sustaining family love and the destructions of desire, vulnerability and power.  Seen through the eyes of a doubting modern woman whose brother is a struggling Catholic priest, this is a difficult story compassionately, carefully, and beautifully told.

From Falasha to Freedom: an Ethiopian Jew's journey to Jerusalem, Shem'uel Yilmah. 112 pages. 
An exciting real-life journey from genocide through the wilderness to the Promised Land, only to find that the quest to arrive requires mental rigor and perseverance every bit as it required physical courage just to get there.

I Feel Bad about My NeckFree-Range Chicken Gardens: how to create a beautiful, chicken-friendly yard, Jessi Bloom, photos by Kate Baldwin. 218 pages; and Chicken Coops: 45 building ideas for housing your flock, Judy Pangman, 166 pages.
The first book is packed with inspiringly lovely pictures and a generous scatter of information.  The second is more practical with useful diagrams and building plans.  Maybe one of these days I'll actually put this book-reading into practice.

I Feel Bad about my Neck: and other thoughts on being a woman, Nora Ephron.  137 pages.
HomesteadA collection of intimate and amusing autobiographical essays about being a woman in the youth-obsessed West, wittily, sometimes movingly, written by today's queen of rom-com. 

Homestead, Rosina Lippi. 210 pages. 
Greece on My WheelsThese twelve linked stories are the work of a gifted sociologist whose research into family groups in a tiny village in the Austrian alps gave birth to these exquisite fictions.  The stories each focus on a different woman hopping from homestead to homestead and moving forward from 1909 to 1977.  An appendix includes clan charts, family groups, naming patterns, and a glossary.

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh. 322 pages.
I wanted to love this flower-infused novel about adoption, homelessness, true love and redemption.  The writing is readable and the story well-plotted, but somehow it fails to achieve believability.  The main character is unlikable and largely impenetrable and she lands at a happy-ish ending without the story earning its way there.

Greece on my Wheels, Edward Enfield.  315 pages
Old enough to know better, but full of erudite wit and all sorts of cycling vim, the author takes his readers with him bicycling through Greece.


Horace and Me: life lessons from an ancient poet, Harry Eyres.  238 pages.
When Jesus Became GodAh!  What would it be to be able to read the hieroglyphs that are Greek to me?  Second best is to read these essays by critic and translator of Horace. Eyres reveals a lively ancient voice who speaks pithily to the excesses and shallow facility of the modern world.

When Jesus Became God: the struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome, Richard E. Rubenstein.  267 pages.
Reflections on the PsalmsA fascinating history of the religious (and sadly political) debate between Arius and Athanasius whose consequences affect our society still today.  Not to mention how these theological machinations and cynical manipulations of the mob-instinct mirror some of the cultural wars of our own age.

Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis. 151 pages.
My obsession with Old Testament poetry continues.  C.S. Lewis encounters the psalms as invitations to joy but also as stumbling blocks for as he puts it: "This book may not tell the reader all he would like to know about the Psalms, but it will tell him a good deal he will not like to know about himself."  I loved what the Times Literary Supplement says about this book: "The Psalms were written as song; we should read them as poetry, . . . not as sermons or instructions.  But they are also shrouded in mystery, and in this careful reading . . . Lewis helps us begin to reveal their meanings."

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our FamiliesWe Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: stories of Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch.  355 pages.
I couldn't finish this beautifully written book although the prose is some of the best I have ever read.  But the topic is so heavy, the commentary on our human potential for cruelty so damning that I had to take a break until there is more sun in the sky.  I want to finish  this important witness to events that are still not resolved and that should not be cold-shouldered just because they are difficult.

The Irresponsible Self
The Irresponsible Self: on laughter and the novel, James Wood.  312 pages.
James Wood is brilliant.  How often do you get to sit down over your solitary tuna sandwich or lonely cup of peppermint tea while sharing the thoughts of one of the best literary brains of this day?  I got a kick out of reading this concurrently with his own first comic novel (below) to see how he put (or tried to put) into practice his stated ideals of comic writing.

The Book against God, James Wood.  257 pages.
Eight Cousins, Or, The Aunt-HillComic novel focused on a surprisingly sympathetic eccentric who won't bathe,  can't hold down a job, won't commit to love, and can't leave God alone.  This is a book about the failure of belief and the failure of disbelief, the persistence of love and the absurdity of being human.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf. 242 pages.
Year after year, I keep re-reading this novel-length poem.  Each time it seems deeper and more delicious than the time before.  Each time the easy clarity  reveals itself as a more structured attainment than I had originally supposed. 

Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott.  322 pages. Also Eight Cousins, or Aunt Hill, 236 pages, and An Old-Fashioned Girl, 345 pages.
I read these old childhood books to keep my sanity during wedding-planning and also to keep fresh in my mind the ethos of the family Christmas party that was the inspiration for our bride's vision of her reception.  These are sweet books and a little didactic but with characters who are still fresh (and refreshing) for their fervent dedication to balance a life of talent and independence with the claims of family and love.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

no news like old news (june - dec 2011)








Here's looking back at 2011.

Here's my one-woman protest to the tyranny of today's latest update.

Here's to no news like old news for helping to calibrate the rate of change.


(click titles to read more)


JUNE 7, 2011
functions modelling change
. . . Frayed edge? As if the sky were neatly woven cloth, warp and weft at right angles?  I’m translating too politely.

When I see that friable, fractal, weeping edge of cloud, what I see reverberates more gutturally.  Not cloth so much as the eroding bank of the sky.

Still translating.  What I see is something up there in the air that feels deeper, visceral, menstrual even. . . .



JULY 11, 2011 
arrows of flowers, bowstring of bees
. . . As in so many things, Fritz is a good part of my pleasure in this pavilion of shapes and eternal quantities, this peaceful place we can come to play, a paper paradise untouched by the messy cross-currents we are otherwise caught in . . . We wake in the morning and (instead of discussing the broken dishwasher) we lie in bed, propped up with pillows, pencils in our hands, graph paper pad against our knees. Our two heads bent over the shared sketch and computation.

This is how geeks sing their aubades. . . .




 JULY 18, 2011 
a fiction: True Confessions
I am not who you think I am.

You may have suspected by now that I write under a pseudonym. To be frank – and I am nothing if not Frank -  I am also not Emma J.  You probably knew that.

 But also the pictures you think you’ve seen of me?  I lifted them from someone else’s life.

That’s not me – placid and fading into grey, twitching a little with the usual midlife impatience, but generally content within the cinnamon-spice aura of a happy home and healthy family.

Not me.


[see also a fiction: Summer, a fiction: Not about the Garden, a fiction: Straight Answers]




JULY 27, 2011
Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24:4): The Town Itself
. . . Do I love the town as a town? 
as a home and refuge and peaceful abode? 

or as a philanthropic challenge? 
as a chance to exercise a gritty aesthetic?. . .
[see also (of 24:1) Public Green, (of 24:2) Old-fashioned Roses & Community Spirit, (of 24:3) A Morning's Ride Away, (of 24: 5) The Heart of the Matter, (of 24:6) Eating Local(of 24:7) Backyard Bounty(of 24: 7½) . . . and Chickens(of 24: the end?) coming to the F.E.A.S.T. ]  



AUGUST 27, 2011
bramble

. . . But in the interim, I go out early, take the dog  (quoting Emily Dickinson who always has so much to say about the kinds of things that always happen) and expect to be surprised by the blackmarket "Hsst-over-here!”  scent of ripening blackberries dangling from unlicensed brambles arcing up, thrusting thuggishly up through the sweet cream-soda froth of Queen Anne's lace at the roadside . . . 







SEPTEMBER 19, 2011
the care and keeping of daughters: 12 secrets
100_4282 (2) . . . Lucky you, you don’t have to compete to matter in this story.  You don’t have to jostle for position with her, or struggle to cut her down to size.  You are already her mother (or father or teacher) and so you have an important place without trying to take her spot or knock her down a notch or push her out of the limelight.  You are privileged to bask in the light that is this unique human being.  
 

Don’t resist that privilege. . . .





SEPTEMBER 4, 2011 
symbolic logic
. . . “I don’t think you think too highly of my kind of logic,” her voice was coming in more limber even though her eyes were closed.

 
“Well, I wasn’t entirely standard myself," he said.  "I would eat the pages as I read them.”

“Why?”

“So I knew when I had finished a chapter.  They didn’t taste very good.  And then I looked at your book to see if I could figure out where we were.  And I saw we didn’t even have the same book" . . .




OCTOBER 5, 2011 
self preservation


. . . I will not consider that the providence of my current season may be a desire to preserve also what was sweet and nourishing to me about my years at home with young children.  My years householding, home-steadying.

See, I am resisting the symbolism. 


I am not saying how I’m standing not at the end of my years of raising children, but near it.  I haven’t said that I’ve crossed over into an unincorporated wild space between Mommyville and the town of What Comes After — but if I did, I'd have to say it’s not so bad here.. . . 





Monday, February 3, 2014

because the bus is coming





Browsing back through old papers today, I found this poem~

I hate the way you have to run ahead because the bus is coming. 
Schoolbooks bouncing in your bag –
our uneven history already a burden on your back. 

There are the mornings we leave together & walk
all the way down the hill together.  Oh, the frost!  
you say,  Oh, the little lines of ice on every

leaf!  Oh, the color of the clouds!  Oh, you
are beautiful. Your face hurts me, glowing
in the cold, the clouds blooming over the misty

fields.  We stand, some mornings, a little while
together, still waiting.  I am sometimes ashamed
of my face but your eyes still look steady into mine.

And that’s a good morning.  This a bad – rushed,
sharp-edged.  Both end the same.  
You always going away & me
saying Go! Go! standing there watching you go. 


© by Emma Jay



That wasn't very long ago.  
That was so very long ago. 







Friday, January 10, 2014

where I am today








Just the sound of this calms me.  Getting clay ready in my grandmother's basement studio.  The slam- slam.  The smell of earth. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

fish move through their water like embodied thought


Four years ago I lost (I thought) daughter and garden in one week.

Not quite a tragedy (of the dust, dusty), of course.  Not really.

And not really lost.

And not forever (what have you lost?).


But it seemed real and it seemed forever.  It seemed something had been lost that would never now be found (this was not a garden).  It seemed the only possible now would be a lesser restitution (another new premise) and stunted restoration (fitting stone).   

Of course this wasn't just about the garden (a fiction: Not about the Garden).

I had been left, in place of roses bordering a circle of clover and tiny pink daisies and soft grass, with dust and dust and more dust.  There was also a shallow pit dug by tractor in the middle.  Rain turned it all to clay.  More rain filled the pit.  The pit never drained away.  It was ugly and dispiriting.  I closed the door and found other ways to work.  Avoided the garden that was no garden anymore.  The next summer we had a muddy square pond in the middle of weeds.  Algae grew.  Mosquitoes bred. 

Then someone threw their extra goldfish (8 for $1) in.  Some died. Winter came.  The pond froze over.  But the next spring there were three fish still alive.
A sprinkling of crushed limestone settled the suspended clay.  The goldfish ate the algae, ate the mosquito spawn.  The clover grew back. 

This spring, YoungSon in a sudden frenzy of self-inspired
aesthetic industry re-dug the pit and rounded its edges, lined it with river rock.  Now when I walk up the re-built rock walkway -- a sudden red-gold flicker and watery movement. 
What is lost is gone.  That hasn't changed.  

And no matter what I do, it won't ever be the same.  The soil is hard and stubborn to my shovel.  So many plants never pushed themselves back up out of burial and I'm still unearthing flagstones scattered everywhere.  The work of repair moves discouragingly slow.  There are so many others things to do.  But native red-flowering currant has seeded itself in one shady spot.  Blue elderberry volunteers just beyond.  Wild strawberries spread.

I never planned this pond.  But I find myself going out to sit beside it, to watch the flicker and flow.  A heavy peace settles in on me watching the fish move through their water like embodied thought.  Slow fluttering of fins, suspended, and then a tail-flick and darting disappearance.

Better than flowers?  

Who can compare the best before to what's best now?






Sunday, July 7, 2013

in-laws, outlaws and other dangers


On the other hand, my mother's parents were none too eager to see their daughter wed my father.  And they let it be known.

My mother was young and, she says, foolish often in their eyes: a tomboy and helter-skelter young hellion who was always in trouble.  Always doing stupid things, naughty things, awkward things. Who had only recently succumbed to the  efforts of my grandmother to polish her up into young ladyhood.

My grandparents, who had grown up dirt poor, had left the dust of their childhoods behind them.  They prided themselves on their immigration into a higher class, sailing to those golden shores by way of hard work and education.  Which they were not going to let their children forget.


Though of course Americans don't believe there should be classes in society.


But just in case they did, my grandparents were going to make it clear exactly where they now belonged.

In the first scrimping years, while my grandfather was getting his doctorate, working at night as a glass-blower, while my grandmother worked as a hairdresser by day, even then they made a point to present themselves as people of refinement.

And they were.  In my eyes, at least, they were always the picture of gentility.

Coiffed and groomed, slim and stylish in my memory and in all the pictures I have of them.  The many pictures I have of them.  For my grandfather documented the progress of his family with countless photographs focused on a life of intelligent, well-behaved pursuits. Dance lessons, marimba recitals, sightseeing trips.  The home life of the upwardly mobile professional class.

From the pictures I've seen, it seems my mother slept with curlers nearly every night.  I look at these pictures imagining that almost every morning my grandmother combed out ringlets and buttoned her daughters up in freshly ironed dresses.  I know she often stayed up late stitching new clothes for her daughters and herself so they'd be every bit as elegant as any wealthier girl.

My grandparents prized intelligence and good manners.  And appearances were not to be sneezed at, either.   "Stand up straight," my grandmother told my mother.  "Hold your stomach in," she said patting a ribbon into place.  "Walk in like a queen," she whispered in her ear.  "You can be anything you want to be," she kept telling her daughters.

And now her daughters had become nearly everything their parents had hoped they would. Their oldest daughter, my Aunt Jan, was already in medical school.  Their second girl, my mother, smart and lovely, was off to college.

"You can be anything you want to be," her father told her, "as long as it starts with Dr."

And then, all at once, their beautiful daughter wanted to marry my dad, a farm-boy with a stutter which my grandfather, a chemist but no expert in psychology, believed was a marker for mental instability. My grandparents' resistance to my parents' marriage was the drama of my young childhood, a story I never tired of hearing.  The fairytale of my coming into existence depended on the princess and the prince-in-disguise overcoming the glass hill of my grandparents' displeasure.

I loved my grandparents, loved their voices and their hands, loved the good-smelling clothes they wore and all the curious corners of their house.  And they rejoiced in me so obviously that I never understood why they wouldn't have wanted my young mother to marry my dad who was so obviously the only dad I could have ever had.

My grandfather forbade the marriage.  My grandmother offered a trip to Europe if my mom would only reconsider.  My grandfather said, in any event, he for one wouldn't show up at the wedding.

He was wrong about that one, too.

I think it was only with my birth, their first grandchild, that there began to be a thaw.  I do remember in the first years of my childhood the smoldering civility between my dad and my grandfather.

And I remember dancing out of the room with glee when one day they finally laughed, my dad and my grandfather, talking together with real liking. In the years to come that relationship mellowed into mutual respect and a certain measure of affection.  But it never became what it could have been.

Always there was a little hitch somewhere, a favoring of some tender healed place always in their stride together.

"The outlaws," my dad would call them, when they weren't around, grinning at my mother over us kids' heads.  "Your grandmother," he always called them to us, "your grandfather." And he said it with a kind of leprechaun grimace.  Unlike the fond way both my parents said "Gramma and Grampa" in reference to the grandparents on the other side.

My mother has told me she remembers she felt a little sad for her parents that they felt so badly. But for once she felt right and not wrong, certain where she had been so awkward so often before.  Just like her mother always promised, she stood up straight and walked into the rest of her life like a queen. 

Became just what she wanted.
Which my grandparents ought to have known is always the danger of good parenting.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

the secret to being a good mother-in-law

My Gramma has been dead for almost twenty years.  That sounds unbelievably long ago but that day she died is still so fresh for me.  The phone call that woke me still jangling in my ears.  It was the day after the day I'd found out my Middlest was on her way here.

I wasn't ready for my grandma to go, my grandma who was always Gramma, not Grandmother.  I comforted myself imagining she had somehow known there was a grandbaby in the offing and decided cancer had had enough of her and slipped away to sneak a visit before anyone else.  It would have been like her.

And I liked thinking of her spirit walking with Middlest's through the neither-here-nor-there garden of mortal transition. 

Surely there's a garden there? My Gramma had loved her garden here in this world: Golden Delicious apple tree, iris, peony, pink-and-yellow columbine, buttercups, snowball bush, lilac.  It was impossible not to picture her somewhere in dappled sun-and-shadow where the breeze was warm and fragrant, a place where two passing spirits, neither (anymore/yet) entirely tethered to this world, could walk together.  And then too, shortly after her death, my dad dreamed his mom came walking towards him through a field of flowers, walking over to where he stood just to tell him she was well and happy. 

So I think it's as likely as anything else that Gramma walked there with my Middlest whose mortal body was just starting to take shape inside of me, telling her how pleased she was, how tickled pink, in fact, she was to see her and letting her know everything she would need to know for life here on earth with me.

I missed my Gramma for years after she was gone.  And miss her still.  Her crinkly voice, her letters that always ended by calling down blessings on my head, the softness of her cheek, her way of reading stories all in one breath, the way she licked her fingers to turn the pages, her hands stirring butter and a little sugar into peas and carrots, crimping the edge of a piecrust, leading the music at church.

Sometimes when I would go to wake Middlest from her nap, her breath would be floury and yeasty like Grandma's breath and her yellow green eyes would be Grandma's eyes until they focused and became her own again.  I wondered sometimes if somehow my baby and Gramma had been walking again together and it made me glad.

Gramma's great gift was to make other people feel doted on.  All her grandchildren have said how treasured they felt by her.  At her funeral so many people came up to tell us how much they loved her, how much they felt loved by her.  So many with a story of her arms embracing them.  I know my mother felt that way.  She adored her mother-in-law (who was, to her -- Mom -- always).  Gramma had thrown her arms around my mother from the first moment she saw her.  Which seemed entirely reasonable to me, because who wouldn't have loved my mother?

I remember them conspiring together over bottles of Fresca and tuna salad.

I remember them sitting together in the front room, each talking and rocking in the old-fashioned upholstered rockers, their heads tossing back in laughter so their hair brushed against the doilies Gramma had crocheted.

I remember them side-by-side washing up the dishes in the kitchen, full of jokes and stories.

I remember them both telling me at different times about the first time they met.  My mom and dad had driven down to meet his parents, arriving a little early and surprising my Gramma on her knees scrubbing the floor getting ready for their visit, like a Danish maid, said my Gramma, all rosy cheeked, said my mother.  Gramma had laughed and scrambled up to her feet to hug my dad and his sweetie and welcome them in.  And from that moment my mom felt she was at home.

I asked my Gramma once how it was she'd been able to love my mom from the first, unlike the stories of mothers-in-law you usually hear.  I thought maybe she'd say she could just see my mother's excellences shining from her eyes.  But she said, "I'd raised my son and I trusted him.  I knew whoever he brought home would be wonderful."

And that was that.



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