For a large portion of my early life, my grandma–my mother’s mother–lived with my parents. Not long after we moved to Texas, she moved in with us; we moved around in Kerrville, and she came with us. And while there were years she lived with her younger brother, she was still in town and we still saw her a lot–and, later in her life and ours, she moved back in with my parents, dying in their house from the results of decades of smoking and more decades of enthusiastic use of talcum and similar powders. She was a fixture in my life for many years, and on what would have been her ninety-fourth birthday, it is only fitting that I would take some time to remember her.
The thing is, I have trouble remembering. For all that I spent as long as I did honing my ability to remember things, for all that I still have in mind and keep in mind, I find it hard to remember the sound of her voice or the kind of jokes she liked (and hated), the taste of her cooking, or any of the things that she did. I know she wrote poetry, which she directed be destroyed rather than read by others (something that did not fall to me; I would not have been able to do it); I know well that she did as much as anyone to cultivate my love of reading, but I do not remember her doing it. Instead, I recall the stories of it, the things I have been told, but those are different than the things themselves, the representations always falling otherwise than the things being represented. And that seems to me to be a poor way to mark her birthday, even if it is all I have at this point.
Some of it, I know, is an issue of age. For a lot of what was going on, I was a child, and I was a child working through a lot of stuff. (For one thing, I did not do much to make myself liked in my youth, something that still has effects on me, decades later. I earned what I have; it sucks, but I acknowledge that I deserve it.) There are things I do not tell my daughter, things I know my parents do not say to her–or to me; it only makes sense that I would not have been told a number of things at the time, and it makes sense that the concerns of later years would mean that things would not come up again.
But I also know that I forget things as something of a defense. What I do not know cannot wound me in the memory, and I know that I am often paralyzed by recalling things. The flipside of being able to remember is having to remember, and not all recollections are happy ones, even in so easy and privileged a life as I have led. Where the line between the two lies is not at all clear to me, and I am not certain I can do the work to find it again, if ever I knew where it was.
Still, it’s not about me. It’s about her and her memory, which deserves mention even if I cannot provide the details that I should.
Miss you, Grandma.