Monday, September 1, 2008


Braiding the fringe of the bed's throw, I squeezed between my sister and brother, as Grandma told us that story of catching the paddleboat waves with her canoe. Her salty (read, inappropriate) language always made us giggle, and I breathed in the sharpness of her arthritis ointment as my chin chittered against my chest. Inching closer to her, because I happened to like the smell of Ben Gay. And the way she slung her hand behind her head, revealing that pale, papery skin on the underside of her arm. Even the reflux spasm in her throat—like a constant clicking—became the soothing background noise of those lazy, summer mornings.

Yes, we have to love our grandparents. But how I liked her, too.

Grandma was a fierce protector of those she loved, and fearless in general. When a restaurant didn’t hire my sister as a waitress, she refused to ever eat there again. We made fun of her for it. But she was dead serious. I was once harassed by a mime (yes, a mime) at an amusement park, and she gave the guy such a verbal smackdown that I don’t think he could have talked, even if he’d been willing to break his code of silence.

Sometimes, her intrepidness embarrassed me. As a girl, I’d hide inside a clothes rack in the department store as she argued with the salesperson about an expired discount, or some such thing. Humming slightly, to drown out the agony of such brazenness.

But mostly, I just thought of how much fun it would be to be like her. Bouncing and screaming with her twin behind that boat, as its paddle slapped at the Ohio River. Graduating from college after having her only child, my mom. Celebrating Christmases with my grandfather in Mexico City. . . why not? Feliz Navidad!

She died in 2002. At 91.

And slowly, we forget these details. So many meticulous brushstrokes fade into dull impressions, some warped by the bitter shades of old-age afflictions. And so we point to loved ones’ photographs in albums, telling our kids, That was your great-grandma. She would have loved you so. They look on, only slightly curious, at this stranger frozen in time. And then, because we cannot explain a person’s life in so few words, with so little time, we flip the page. The lump in our throat all packed away.

But last night, those precious details returned. I felt the slickness of her palm pressed to my own. That familiar hand, all veins and joints. We walked together under a starry, museum sky, and she told me that she loved me. Or I told her. I can’t quite remember, but the word love stamped itself inside my head. And was bursting from me when I awoke.

So today, that lump in the throat has free reign. Not because I lost her again. For even while dreaming, there was the awareness that our time was fleeting. But because I received the bittersweet gift of knowing her again.

And this chance to keep her alive a little bit longer.


Dedicated to Elinor Luttrell: Grandma, anti-mimeite and wave rider.

I am myne owene woman, wel at ease

--Geoffrey Chaucer


*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

I have a lump in my throat after reading this.Her fierce loving is truly something else.She had such a fruitful life.What more could a woman want?

Time tends to blur such beautiful memories,but now and then they shine so bright.And those are the times we relive them all over again,the emotions baring themselves.

She must be smiling up there right now,so proud to have such a sweet granddaughter :)

Hotwire said...

those moments of clarity and recall are gifts that come far too infrequently. when i've had these about my grandparetns (all of whom are gone...) i've quickly written them down as no to lose them.

thanks for sharing yours!

Anonymous said...

And know I feel like I know the essence of her.

Thank you for sharing her, because I can only know her through someone else's reflection. Anti-mimeite indeed! What a lady.

Breathtaking reflection, Sarah. So well done.

(And what a capture in that picture! Wow.)

Aine said...

You've certainly brought a bit of her to life for all of us. The details that you recall (the reflux spasm, the papery skin, etc) are fabulous. Those are the sensory points that anchor our memory. I often wonder what parts of me will be remembered by my children.

Grandma certainly was feisty! I'd love to hear more about her life story. As you know, I've always been fascinated by women of that generation.

And that photo was quite a catch!

Ello said...

That was so lovely and what a wonderful tribute. I don't think we can ever truly forget, but it can be hard to keep the details fresh. Dreams are such a great place to see them again.

Sarah Hina said...

Sameera, thank you. :) Those emotions and memories do get buried. And writing is such an effective tool for dusting off those vibrant colors and textures.

Hotwire, I actually thought about your pieces while writing this. You have such a great talent for making the past come alive.

Jason, thanks. :) I took that photo months ago, and was off on the shutter speed, but I was still waiting for the opportunity to use it. That bit of life and grace leaping above the stones seemed appropriate.

(psst...I'm an anti-mimeite, too. They freak me out. ;))

Aine, I imagine you've met your fair share of feisty ladies. ;)

I do like trying to record those details, before they slip away. The dream was a trigger, but really, concentrating on those memories while awake brought even more to life. Sometimes, we just have to remind ourselves to make that effort.

And I'm sure your kids will have a million points of light to remember you by! :)

Ello, that's very true. I've dreamed about her before, but not with such clarity, and purpose, I guess. Thanks for the kind words!

Vesper said...

Sarah, thank you for this beauty.
We don't forget... the details are there in that lovely blur that at once we cherish and we fear...
I still have a lump in my throat, and more, when I think of my grandmother, gone at 72, in 1986.
She was my best friend. When I dream of her, it's soothing beyond measure...

The photo is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Very well written.

"She would have loved you so."

I find myself thinking this very often. I know my grandmother would've loved my daughter (my daughter is names after her) so much. It pains me so much that they were never able to meet. We tell our daughter about her great-grandmother, but I know it won't ever be enough.

Don't you hate dreams where you are experiencing something wonderful, but your conscious self keeps telling you it's just a dream? I experience this a lot.

Thanks for sharing your Grandma with us.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Vesper. And I'm glad that you, too, had a grandmother whose memory still shines so brightly for you. We might miss them, but we are very lucky, all the same.

Paul, not only do I have dreams like that, but I'm too often conscious of moments slipping away, even while living them, too.

And yes, there will never be enough details of your grandmother to pass onto your daughter, and have her really know her. But I like the fact that we still try. If we didn't, our loved ones would really be dead.

Thanks so much for sharing that, Paul. :)

Vinz aka Vinu said...

nice write up…well penned feelings.!!
so close to heart..!!

everyone got their own way to love..and this one, a much more fierce and even resistive kind of showing your love is unique..


Aniket said...

After reading your comment, I knew I'll find a post dedicated to her out here.

I hate to admit that this has left me teary eyed. My grandma has already endured three heart attacks. And the fear of losing her just shatters me inside. She makes my dad call me daily so she can talk to me... and is always perked up about my love life.

She too is a fighter... if by any chance she misses one of her sitcoms... all hell breaks lose. :-D

She is the sweetest lady ever... as am sure was yours (I don't believe she was ever fierce with you).