southern legitimacy statement:
Since coming to Northern California ten years ago from a lifetime in Virginia where my father’s Quaker family had lived sinnce around 1720, i can see my time there more clearly as material and have enjoyed working with memory to write about it. Hope you enjoy.
**We encouraged Jeanne to find her voice. The little voice tucked away in her heart. Well, dammit, she did. How old are you when you remember? Six? Four? You will find this touching and brilliant. Odds are, you too will start remembering and when you do, write us a piece of your history. You can be six or four… or eighty.
My fourth birthday. I am in the back yard with good old Grandpa. Daddy’s Pop. He has deepset hazel eyes and gray wavy hair that stands up high on his head. He shows me again the pine he planted when I was born. He waters the hollyhocks and hydrangeas. I am helping. I gently pet Grandma’s cat, Clawed.
Then upstairs in the room at night I cry because I hear a bear. Grandma comes in and says it’s only Grandpa snoring.
Grandpa Makes Me a Letter Opener
in his wood shop in the basement. He says to be careful of the gadgets and gizmos. They are sharp. He shows me how to tighten the vise around the letter opener to hold it still so he can sand it smooth. He is making the letter opener for me. Grandpa’s woodshop smells of fresh cut wood.
Grandpa Talks to the Radio
We’re in his kitchen listening to the Senators’ game. I am seven.
“Hey battah battah!” Grandpa yells.
The window is open. On the sill is his limburger.
“Grandma makes me keep my cheese outdoors! She says it’s smelly.”
We laugh. I think Grandpa is afraid of Grandma.
“Want some nice limburger?” He waves it in my direction.
Grandpa makes a limburger sandwich and eats it with his beer. Standing up. By the radio, watching it.
“Run Dammit!” Grandpa yells.
The baseball game on the radio makes me drowsy. Like I’m dreaming it.
Grandpa Plays Tennis
Grandma goes with him to the courts at Bluemont. She crochets, sitting in the car. Grandpa plays a set. He is good at tennis. Grandma watches now and then. Keeping an eye on him. Sunshine, cool air of October in D.C. I am nine. Grandpa is 60. Grandma is 55. They have been married 37 years. They have five grown children.
Between sets he goes for a drink of water at the fountain. He falls down with a heart attack. She looks up and sees him on the ground. She runs to him. She cries “Jim Jim,” kneeling beside him, shaking him, holding his hand. She cries for help. He lies still. This is what Mother tells me.
Grandma Needs Me
Mother tells me to walk over to Grandma’s. Grandma needs me. I’m a little scared to see poor Grandma. Well, I am her favorite grandchild. I was named for her. I am crying as I start out through the neighborhood to walk the few blocks to her house. I had felt Mother’s sadness, and our sadness for Daddy and Grandma, but now I feel my own sadness. I am a girl whose grandpa died today. I wish I would see someone I knew so I could tell them. My Grandpa died! I just found out. I feel the drama of it. I feel important. Pyracantha bushes on either side of the door to Grandma’s house wear clusters of orange berries. Gone are the white flowers and Japanese beetles of summer.
I find Grandma in the dark bedroom, sitting on the edge of their bed, dabbing her eyes with her hanky. I go sit beside her, pat her, say I’m sorry. Grandma cries, puts her arm around me. This is okay, I’m not scared. Poor Grandma.
at the funeral parlor. Dark paneling, deep carpet, glow of soft lights.
Why? Why? My father says, “It was his time to go.” Mother says, “He’s in heaven now.” But why? It doesn’t make sense. I do not understand why such a thing had to happen to Grandpa and upset everyone. We were just fine before.
We go up to the casket. Grandma stands there in her Sunday meeting dress and hat. She holds Grandpa’s folded hands in hers, talking low to him.
I whisper, “Grandpa! Grandpa!” I pat his arm. He is gray except for pink cheeks and lips. Poor Grandpa in his blue Sunday meeting suit. He is the first dead person I have ever seen. I feel a little dizzy. I see that the life has left him. I see that he has left us. I see for myself. I feel grown up seeing Grandpa lying there. My little sister didn’t get to come to the funeral parlor.
I call him silently. “Grandpa! Grandpa!” I close my eyes, and there he is smiling at me. There he is inside, my Grandpa still. “Attagirl!” Grandpa is part of me. But Grandpa is gone, too. He won’t be listening to baseball now. He won’t be watering the flowers. How will I live without him? “Grandpa! Grandpa! I miss you.”