Before I set foot in Minneapolis, before I could mouth consonants, before everything… she baptized me in a kitchen sink somewhere in the midst of New Orleans. Raising four children, married to a trombonist, recently becoming a great grandfather, on Thanksgiving, her invite list stretched as far as 3rd cousins, cooking for a crowd equivalent to a wedding reception.
A kind, gentle, and reasonable tough lover, her shoulders sank a bit lower than the rest. Carrying the addicted, treating the ill, melding pic-a-biscuits to perfection, and biting bullets just before returning them to the sender, you’d have to ask where the time went to foster a home, a family, where the hell the time went to foster herself. Something that seemed to stand as constant as gravity, I never questioned if she ever buckled underneath it all, cried amidst the chaos, or lost the love for split seconds at a time. If she did, it didn’t show. Not by any 7th Heaven means of smiling while dying on the inside, good ol’ Minnesota Caucasian passive aggression, but more so a straight glance to the heart. If you fucked up, you’d know it. A balance of all things, she was… and although things have changed, she still is.
I love her to no end, to no memory I can conjure when I began to love her. You could say throughout my existence, I’ve always loved her. On the contrary to the notion, I can remember the moment I began to fear her. My cousins and I were playing in the front yard of my mother’s house. Evan & I were around the age of 9, while Hugh was a eager 7. Knocking on the front door of the house, we rarely opened or used unless to grab mail, no one answered. Too tired, lazy, and selfish, we continued to knock. No one answered.
Could’ve been my mother, aunt, or even Annie (my sister) to answer the door, and everything would’ve went kosher. This was not to be. Of all people, She… answered the door. “Go around to the back”, she declared. Totally caught off guard, jaws dropped to the sidewalk, “What the fuck”, repeating in our heads, she slammed the front door. And it was on.
You don’t tell a pack of 9 yr. olds to go around to the back when the front door is clearly open. Now, I won’t name names, but one of us, not me, was absolutely furious. Beyond all impulse and ill temper, he shouted “FUCK YOU!!!!”.
I took a triple take as to what just went down. “Whoa”, I thought. That takes some balls. I’d never say that to Her. I mean, I’d think that, but I wouldn’t say that out loud. The punishment that would ensue could potentially make Singapore look like a gentle state of repercussions. Whatever, She couldn’t hear it , right? I heard her close the other door to the porch, she’d have to hear that through two doors and half a living room- Whooom! The front door swung open.
Tears in her eyes, “What did you say?!?!”. Uhhhhh, uhhhhh, I ran. A conference was held later that family dinner. One of my cousins was punished, never heard exactly what they did to him, but his mouth didn’t open for the rest of the day. How’d she hear what he said? Super powers, Wolverine ears, Spider- Sense? I don’t know what it was, but it scared the shit out of me. From that day on, not only would I never say a cruel thing to my grandmother, I can’t remember a time that I’ve garnered a cruel thought towards her.
As a child, I respected her out of fear. Encountering all I have since then, the respect remains, but not out of fear. It was just a year ago, I sat in a hospital waiting to hear the doctor’s verdict on her arhythmical heart beat. Earth teetering on a thin line, as most do in a hospital waiting room, the nurse came out to invite me to visit her. There she lay, tubes plugged into her old body, conversing and laughing with my mother like a lunch break. Looking mortality in the eye, she smiles.
I asked her what she wants for Christmas a few weeks ago, and she told me to just write. “I still have all your cards. Don’t buy me anything, I don’t need that stuff. Write me something nice for Christmas”. Certainly not the first, and mos def not the last, but here you are Carol, grandmother. Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday.