~In loving memory of Virginia, a shrewd, complexly opinionated, and unabashedly unique woman until the day of her death; I will miss you always.~
They were extravagantly beautiful, just like her. My mother walked into the room quietly and placed her hands on my shoulders. We both looked into the mirror in front of me; I had her nose but my grandmother’s eyes, she had always said, and nothing from my father. “Your grandmother loved those pearls very much,” she said with a remnant smile. “I think they were the only piece of jewelry she owned that was actually real.” She picked up a gaudy clip-on earring with a green glass emerald tucked in a tarnished silver rose and fastened it to her earlobe, checking it facetiously in the mirror. “…And she refused to have her ears pierced.” We laughed small chuckles that were cut short with the pain of loss, laughs that seem vain after they leave the lips, and lay guilt on the heart for having a happy moment in such times. “I think she would want you to have the pearls Durdanah; she loved you very much. Besides, they need a younger neck than mine.” I turned around and hugged her, tears rolling silently down my cheek before being absorbed by her blouse.
Trying to be as unnoticeable as I could, I sat in one of the old wicker chairs in a corner of the dining room with the pearls still on my neck; it was the same chair I sat in as she taught me to play seven-card-stud at age eight with nickels and dimes as our bets. Grandma was quite the card player, always hosting little gatherings that she called “get-togethers,” and guests dined on delicious, home-prepared finger foods while they played cards or dominoes. Those cheesy bite-sized Swedish meatballs were always a hit and only she could make them correctly; but now I would never have them again, until one day far in the future at an adult party somewhere, someone would serve a similar hor’dourve and the memories flood in unexpectedly. Yes, I wanted to be out of the way as I watched my family roaming through the house claiming this and that, knick-knacks they thought they might remember her better by, or objects that meant something to them and everyone, or maybe nothing to anyone. I watched them bicker over trivial objects like a large conch shell that was being used for a doorstop, or the crocheted pot holder in the shape of a simplified rooster. They did this as if they had been waiting for her to die, just so they could stick a flag in that silver-ware set and claim it, or slap a banner on that flowered vase in the corner that screamed “Mine, mine, mine!” It made me feel disgusted. Every time I walked into the kitchen or down the hall I didn’t see things I could claim. I saw my grandmother mixing a Boston-cream pie, my favorite, or lingering a while near a picture of my grandfather when he was young. But most of the pictures had already been ripped off the wall and wrapped in a newspaper to go rot in a relative’s attic. Was nothing sacred? I prayed that very moment, earnest with grief, that no one would ever do these things when I died, that my offspring might find some better time to distribute my personal effects than the day of my funeral.
* * * *
That night I lay in bed looking at my ceiling with a deep melancholy weighing on my heart. As I drifted into slumber my mind was whisked away to my grandmother’s house before she died. I was eating eggs and fried cheese that morning before school, fixed for me with love in every calorie, as always. My grandmother lay, sitting up in her bed trying to figure out a crossword puzzle. She was always working on a crossword puzzle, tapping her bright magenta press-on nails against her tooth as she worked and worked until whole books had been solved. She was always tapping for some reason; it was a nervous habit perhaps, though she never appeared nervous to me when she was doing it. Everyone in the family agreed she was quite eccentric and I had even heard it said that if she didn’t have the money she would be in a home some where, maybe even the loony bin. I never understood those types of comments and thought she was just fine. “Watch out for that newspaper boy, on your way to school,” she said. “I don’t like him. He stole that pair of flower pots I had on the front porch yesterday.” - “Yes ma’am,” I replied. I didn’t understand what a young boy would want with an old woman’s flower pots but I was sure that he must have taken them.
I sat on the opposite side of the bed that had been reserved for my grandfather before but was now only filled by me. She still slept strictly on her side, never wandering to the middle of the bed during the night, as if she left the vacancy for his ghost to fill. “Now eat all your breakfast, sweetie; you need to have plenty of energy for school.” I smiled. The feeling was so warm. She always pushed for everyone to be fully fed, although she may criticize your weight if it ever became worthy of criticism. Though I was plump, her harsher comments were always reserved for other family members who visited less often or were simply not as high on her list of favorite children and grandchildren.
I finished my breakfast and put on my back pack and my leather dress shoes as required by our uniform code, which consisted of a white collared shirt, a red button up sweater bearing the school emblem, and a navy, minimum knee-length, pleated skirt. I attended a private school that was only about a block from her house and I often walked there in the mornings when it was still cool. “Would you like me to pick you up after school? It will be another hot one today,” she said. I knew that the offer was spurred only half by her concern for me, as she had once told me that “summers were hotter and winters were longer when she was a child, and that I was lucky my school was so near.” I understood that since she lived alone now, she needed to get out of the house from time to time, so I happily agreed, although the walk was always quite enjoyable for me.
School let out at 3:15 p.m. and I went to sit on a bench in front of the chapel. Across the street I could see little wrens perched on the bone white tombstones and fluttering between the wrought-iron fencing and the old live oaks; benevolent St. Jude watched over the scene in approval. It was much cooler in the shade where I sit and I could see the parking lot from there as I waited, expecting to see my grandma cruise up in her big brown town car. Thirty minutes passed which slowly turned into an hour, until there were only a few cars left in the parking lot. Surely she just forgot the time, I thought. Finally, I decided to make the short journey on foot, and perhaps wave her down if she passed on the way. As I approached the dip in the road that marked halfway, I saw a car approaching, but the car was not the giant cruiser I had hoped for; it was my mother’s car. She rolled down the window and signaled with her hand as if I wouldn’t have recognized her as she pulled up beside me. “Get in the car, honey,” she said. Her tone spoke to me more than the words; she was there for a reason. I walked around the front of the car and got into the passenger side. “What’s wrong Mom?” I asked. “It’s your grandmother. She is in the hospital; that’s why she couldn’t come pick you up. She had a heart attack baby.” I started crying, my face already flushed before she was finished talking. “Is she going to be alright?” I asked, watching her intently. She reached over, putting her arm around me. “Yes… she is going to be just fine.” I knew she was lying from the moment she said it. She wouldn’t look into my eyes; she lied.
After stopping by my grandmother’s house to get my things we went by the hospital as I had requested, to visit her. When we arrived I walked into the room slowly, fearing what I might see. What I saw did make me afraid, for my grandmother lay unconscious in the bed with metal bars on both sides like a cage holding her in. I was plenty tall enough to see over the bars but they bothered me nonetheless, perhaps because of what they represented; they separated me from her, I didn’t like it. There were machines all around the gurney that were connected to her. They each had their own set of lights and buttons, and displays telling me my grandmother was dying. She looked so frail; where before had been a vibrant woman there was only a shell. I touched her hand gently but there was not response. I leaned over so I could lay my head on the pillow next to her and wept; I could smell my grandmother’s scent on the pillow.
* * * *
The next morning the sun shown brightly through my window and birds were chirping happily outside in the magnolia tree. I hopped out of bed and stretched a wonderful tip-toed stretch that everyone must perform before beginning their day. My mother said “your grandmother” that day when she picked me up. She had five grandchildren but I think she did belong to me more than any other. The thought made me feel good and brought back the warm feeling I remembered so well. It wasn’t like the day after my grandfather’s funeral; when I woke up on that day I had completely forgotten that he had died, only to be completely shattered again at the horrible recollection of the events of the previous day. No, today was certainly different; I remembered my Grandma was dead and I had long been old enough to understand what that meant, but the beauty of the morning and the fresh, fond memories in my mind overcame the grief quite utterly. I think it is exactly how she would have wanted it to be.
Before heading downstairs, I stopped at my dresser which had a vanity connected to the top. The pearl necklace lay in a small jewelry box in front of the mirror. I paused to drape it around my neck and looked in the mirror to inspect, fondling the individual pearls in my fingers. My nose then detected the smell of bacon from downstairs and I ran down to the kitchen table where my mother had left the Sunday newspaper. I liked to read the comic strips they contained, which were only in color on Sundays. “Well good morning, Dani. You sure do seem to be in a good mood. Sit down; breakfast will be done in a few minutes.” I sat down at the table and opened the newspaper to the page just before the comics and noticed the crossword puzzle on the bottom of the page. I fished a pen from the cup in the center of the table and crossed out the clue for [five down] and wrote in the answer. I set the pen down and leaned back in the chair, quietly tapping my tooth as I pondered: “What is a three letter word for mimic?” My mother laughed at me, “Ape you ape!” - “Ape? Ape like the animal… a monkey?” - “No, no” she said, “It’s spelled the same but it means: to imitate.” - “Oh, okay.” As I wrote the letters in the blanks I realized that my mother had laughed at me because I was imitating my Grandmother, while at the same time asking for a synonym for mimic. I felt my face blush, equally as embarrassed for being slow to catch on to the irony as being caught in the act. What’s wrong with me acting like Grandma? I thought. I don’t want to forget her. If I remember her like this, one day… after a while, it won’t be imitation anymore; it will just be me… then she won’t ever leave and I’ll always have her, forever… And, when I have kids I will tell them all about her and treat them the way she was to me, and if I have a littler girl I will give her this necklace one day, when I am an old woman, and she will understand how important it is to me and the whole family and they will pass it down to my grandchildren, and keep it even long after I’ve died… forever…
By: T.J. Seale
Copyright 2007 Thomas Taylor