Thursday, August 12, 2010
forgetting to remember
It always amazed me to see Great Gran, in her eighties, sitting on the floor with the greatest of ease, getting up with the same ease, strutting her little four foot 10 self around like she was a woman in her fifties. Still driving (big pillow on the driver’s seat so that she could see over the wheel), thrifting, cooking, creating, laughing. Living. Her daughter, my grandmother, has followed in her footsteps, youthful in her seventies, salt and pepper hair just appearing out of nowhere over the last few years. Great Gran never really went grey. A few strands here and there, but youthfulness runs through our blood.
“Did you know you wrote a book, Gran?”
“Did I, baby? Oh.”
“Yup, you told stories of how you’d sneak fruit from your uncle’s mulberry tree when you were little, and remember your mama’s mule that kicked you?” Her somber stare is replaced with a smile, and a knowing look in her eye. She recalls the stories like they happened yesterday, and completes my sentences as I tell them.
We do this song and dance weekly, because, though she may not remember she wrote the book, she remembers the stories. Stories that took place eighty some years ago in farm houses and in little one-room churches, near fresh water brooks and under mulberry trees. Stories that shaped who she became, therefore contributing to the me that I’ve become, that I’m still becoming, almost a century later.
She loved old country westerns and working with her hands. She lived for fishing and laughter and family. Now she just sits. I wonder what is going through her mind, as she stares the day away, fully aware that her mental “self” has become
lifeless, and waiting for her physical body to catch up.
As I help her in the bathroom, and change her diaper, I try to use the same love and care that she must have, 30 years ago when she changed mine. “Let’s go wash your hands, sweetie,” I say, as she has said to me countless times throughout my childhood. “Okay baby, she says, sweetly and with a vulnerability that makes me want to ball up and cry.
She is now 92, and she has watched me grow from a child to a woman, and now as I watch her grow in reverse, standing toe-to-toe with childhood, becoming a baby again, I embrace the moment, give thanks for my youth, and mourn the grandma that is no more. Her laugh and her hands are reminders of her former self, and as I stand next to her, rubbing and soaping them under warm flowing water, she giggles, opening up a locked box of memories, flashes of yesteryears taunting and torturing me like a bad movie, reminding me of my own mortality.
We are butterflies, fluttering freely, finding our way on crooked paths. We are born, we crawl through life, wrapping ourselves up in a chrysalis of experiences that make and break us, our spirits, ourselves. In our own time, we break out and fly, unable to forsee the future, living in the moment.
Like the butterfly, we are oblivious to the smiles and the beauty we bring to others, we just fly. And like all beautiful things, our lives as we know it must come to an end.
But long after the life we know ends, the impressions left behind live on.