How does a change in physical appearance affect the inner landscape? This post was prompted by Write on Edge.
Observing an unexpected physical change in my grandmother caused something to shift in my young consciousness.
It was a long drive from my hometown to my grandparents’ house. My sisters and I sat buckled in and three deep across the back seat of a boxy station wagon. Luggage was loaded across the tailgate to fill the space behind us. A small cooler filled with sandwiches and snacks was at our feet. We had no DVD player nor an Iphone to entertain us, but we had plenty of notebooks and pens and library books. We played Madlibs and I Spy. We called out the names of states as we searched for license plates from across the nation, and we sped down the highway past farms and weathered, paint-chipped barns and sleepy big-eyed cows that stood silent beneath the sun. We played the alphabet game over and over as we drove from Virginia to Michigan in the summertime.
A my name is Annie and I like to eat apples, B my name is Bobby and I like to eat berries, C my name is Candy and I like to eat cupcakes….
We quizzed our parents about our location; my dad tossed us a map.
Us: Are we there yet?
Them: Not much longer now.
We stretched our legs at grimy highway rest stops where the summer heat blasted our senses till we climbed back into the car. Finally we rolled into the driveway of my grandparents’ house, dusty and tired, but quickly revived as we recognized our faraway cousins and doting aunts and laughing uncles. We were scooped up in hugs and greetings and everyone cheered as the family became more and more present… grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandbabies – there was sure to be a bunch of us arriving on the scene.
I do not remember my paternal grandmother very well, but I do remember her. She was soft and serious and kind… if I met her today, I think I would describe her as industrious. One has to be, if one has eleven children.
She had these beautiful, gentle eyes.
I remember her offering me a piece of warm bread, or perhaps it was a cookie, as she bustled in the kitchen preparing a meal. Then she told me I could play the piano in the living room. Framed photos stood in black and white on the gleaming upright in the elegant room that felt to me more like a parlor than a space to relax. My feet didn’t touch the pedals, but the notes sang out as I pressed each key in turn.
Months later we visited and I observed that she was no longer robust and round. She was thin. Different. I hugged her, and she hugged me back. She looked around the room smiling as our family spilled into the room, filling it with a disorderly and warm-hearted energy created by a big and loving family.
I remmber that she did not stand up from her chair.
Today, I would have described her appearance as frail, but this woman – a mother and grandmother to so many children – no, she could not have been frail, at least not in spirit. Even at a young age, I recognized that there was great meaning behind her physical appearance. The transformation in her limbs was profound. She was strong and became weak, we were hopeful and yet she was losing a battle against which she had few weapons.
Again, we traveled the vast distance to arrive in time for her funeral.
In the reflection of the rearview window, I saw tears sparkling in my father’s eyes as he drove us down the highway, but they did not fall. I blinked, looked out the window and back again.
Had I imagined them?