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