My grandmother’s house always had beautiful paintings and other wall decor items on the wall. I would come over and she would plainly state “When I die, you can have anything you want. This will all be yours.” My 13-year old self would roll my eyes and reply with exasperation and some shame that I’d rather have her live than inherit the cornucopia of Soviet trinkets and other chachkes.
As I grew, the objects came to have more meaning and history, especially after I came to value family heritage. There was the blue wave that stood mightier than the ocean whence it came, this oil painting hung in the foyer above where the dining table would host family gathering after family gathering. A few seagulls flew overhead, seemingly looking for a silvery fish snack. That painting was there since I was two…
Next, were the twins, a sort of Raggedy Ann and Andy pair of matching paintings from the 1970s.They both sported bell bottoms. You would inevitably pass their mischievous grins as you walked toward grandma’s peach colored, sunlit bedroom. The girl had a velvety purple shirt on with a flower and the boy had some DIY fishing gear. Their large eyes were kind and friendly, I believe Grandma got these from our neighbors and relatives, Esther and Minnie who passed when I was still in elementary school.
The most mysterious of the coveted wall art, and the piece that would make me blush as a kid was the needle point work, so craftfully done, of a lonely woman posed near a window with a sheer sheet covering a portion of her nude body. Her breast, pixelated with the fine wool thread in pink and peach, peeked out. I was always so in awe of that piece, ofcourse I never thought to ask how grandma had acquired it and the story behind it…
It is strange how regrets pile on like buttermilk pancakes when opportunity to communicate with someone you love ceases indefinitely. It’s not the objects carry her spirit, maybe they do, it is that sense of comfort and familiarity. Also responsibility, I would have loved to carry on some family heirlooms. But ofcourse, as the years passed and grandma gradually became bedbound with a round the clock home attendant, things disappeared. A 6-month stint at the nursing home-poof, there went that gold ring. Another few workers later, that antique piece vanishes. Away at college and then living outside of Brooklyn for a few years, I lost sight of these things… Returning to the pillaged apartment, I felt as though her memory, her life has been sordid somehow by all these external variables. In the end, all the things that were to be mine, oh boy, were gone or damaged. The late 2000s bed bug scare across NYC passed through like a whirlwind and the wretched creatures did not overlook all the lovely mementos that were to be bequeathed to me. So as I cleaned the apartment, I could not take the blue wave, I turned away from the 1970s adventurous Bobsey twins and reluctantly left my needlepoint crush with her supple breast… Instead of my favorite things, I was delighted to find a wrinkled piece of paper in a decorative tea kettle that was never used for tea but only display.
I unraveled it and then remembered, it was a small accounting book that grandma had me use when I took money for things I really needed like school supplies and other purchases that my mom could not afford to get me on her own. Grandma would have me do the math so I could feel the finances. It was money that she was saving for me but nonetheless I had to justify deducting the sum from Grandma bank and keep the rudimentary books. It is neat reflecting on this, so many years later…
I managed to keep some china and I hope that will some how give physicality to her memory. I am still trying to figure out away that she can stay alive in my heart so in the meantime, I have this morbid, tragic and brutally honest Margaret Atwood poem, Margaret Atwood can verbalize all the things I feel but cannot say succinctly.
An excerpt of my favorite stanzas from Five Poems for Grandmothers
In the house on the cliff
by the ocean, there is still a shell
bigger and lighter than your head,
you can hardly lift it.
It was once filled with whispers;
it was once a horn
you could blow like a shaman
conjuring the year,
and your children would come running.
You’ve forgotten you did that,
you’ve forgotten the names of the
who in any case no longer run,
and the ocean has retreated,
leaving a difficult beach of gray
your are afraid to walk on.
The shell is now a cave
which opens for you alone.
It is still filled with whispers
which escape into the room,
even though you turn it mouth down.
This is your house, this is the picture
of your misty husband, these are your
and doubled. This is the shell,
which is hard, which is still there
solid under the hand, which mourns,
itself, a narrow journey
along its hallways of cold pearl
down the cliff into the sea.
Sons branch out, but
one woman leads to another.
Finally I know you
through your daughters,
my mother, her sisters,
and through myself:
Is this you, this edgy joke
I make, are these your long fingers,
your hair of an untidy bird
is this your outraged
eye, this grip
that will not give up?
of my mother, old bone
tunnel through which I came.
You are sinking down into
your own veins, finger
folding back into the hand,
day by day a slow retreat
behind the disk of your face
which is hard and netted like an
You will flicker in these words
and in the words of other
for a while and then go out.
Even if I send them,
you will never get these letters.
Even if I see you again,
I will never see you again.