Every summer. Like Swiss clockwork. When I was a kid, I’d go back home to Vermont. We moved to California when I was really young, so I grew up away from family. The only time I reconnected with them was during these summer visits. Or funerals.
I’d stay anywhere from 4-8 weeks at Meme’s house. The house was a hodgepodge affair of a modified barn from at least a generation or two before my grandmother. There was the dry and dusty attic. When I was old enough to reach the ceiling ladder, I’d jump up and down, reaching for the string. It’s strange that the sound of the coils on the hinges stretching would make me so wistful. The basement was the exact opposite. Dark and dank, marble fragments littered the floor. I hated it down there.
Inevitably Meme would have a list of things for me to do when I arrived. Weed the garden, paint the hall, clean the attic, help with canning. I hated it. For a while I did those things for her. One summer I lashed out, argued that I “worked” all year long in school, that this was my rest and I needed a break. I might have said a hateful thing or two. She cracked once, but mostly she wouldn’t have it. “Don’t sass me,” she’d say. Despite her see-saw gimp, one blind eye and a paralyzed elbow, she was not a woman to be crossed. Full of piss and vinegar, so the saying goes.
It turns out now, looking back, all those things that tortured me are the ones I cherish. Time in the garden (even with the potato bugs). Driving home from bingo while she told me that the moon was chasing us. Her grooving out to ABBA when she cleaned the house.
Visiting her is so different now. Instead of a house with land, she has a room. Instead of making bulging egg salad sandwiches and wrapping them in wax paper for Bingo, she gripes not being able to go and cook something in the kitchen. She still has her sass, is overflowing with piss and vinegar, but it’s different now. There’s a hard edge to it, a bitterness that comes with loss. At least that’s my take. It’s so strange to witness someone who was formidable slowly changing as she grows old. Losing autonomy, losing her identity in degrees. And yet so much of her is still there.
She’s reading a birthday card in this picture (she loves her birthday cards and Christmas cards). I liked the lighting in it, and her hand – the story it tells.