Grandma! I remember her birth. Wait, you say, no man remembers his own grandma’s birth. But, yes, we remember the day that she was born.
For we, her grandchildren, slapped her to life. Timothy, Agatha, and I, Tom, raised up our hands and brought them down in a huge crack! We shook together the bits and pieces, parts and samples, textures and tastes, humors and distillations that would move her compass needle north to cool us, south to warm and comfort us, east and west to travel round the endless world, glide her eyes to know us, mouth to sing us asleep by night, hands to touch us awake at dawn.
Grandma, O dear and wondrous electric dream…
When storm lightnings rove the sky making circuitries amidst the clouds, her name flashes on my inner lid. Sometimes still I hear her ticking, humming above our beds in the gentle dark. She passes like a clock-ghost in the long halls of memory, like a hive of intellectual bees swarming after the Spirit of Summers Lost. Sometimes still I feel the smile I learned from her, printed on my cheek at three in the deep morn…
All right, all right! you cry, what was it like the day your damned and wondrous-dreadful-loving Grandma was born?
It was the week the world ended… Our mother was dead.
One late afternoon a black car left Father and the three of us stranded on our own front drive staring at the grass, thinking:
That’s not our grass. There are the croquet mallets, balls, hoops, yes, just as they fell and lay three days ago when Dad stumbled out on the lawn, weeping with the news. There are the roller skates that belonged to a boy, me, who will never be that young again. And yes, there the tire – swing on the old oak, but Agatha afraid to swing. It would surely break. It would fall.
And the house? Oh, God…
We peered through the front door, afraid of the echoes we might find confused in the halls; the sort of clamor that happens when all the
furniture is taken out and there is nothing to soften the river of talk that flows in any house at all hours. And now the soft, the warm, the main piece of lovely furniture was gone forever.
The door drifted wide.
Silence came out. Somewhere a cellar door stood wide and a raw wind blew damp earth from under the house.
But, I thought, we don’t have a cellar!
“Well,” said Father.
We did not move.
Aunt Clara drove up the path in her big canary-colored limousine.
We jumped through the door. We ran to our rooms.
We heard them shout and then speak and then shout and then speak: Let the children live with me! Aunt Clara said. They’d rather kill themselves! Father said.
A door slammed. Aunt Clara was gone.
We almost danced. Then we remembered what had happened and went downstairs.
Father sat alone talking to himself or to a remnant ghost of Mother left from the days before her illness, but jarred loose now by the slamming of the door. He murmured to his hands, his empty palms:
“The children need someone. I love them but, let’s face it, I must work to feed us all. You love them, Ann, but you’re gone. And Clara? Impossible. She loves but smothers. And as for maids, nurses – ?”
Here Father sighed and we sighed with him, remembering.
The luck we had had with maids or live-in teachers or sitters was beyond intolerable. Hardly a one who wasn’t a crosscut saw grabbing against the grain. Handaxes and hurricanes best described them. Or, conversely, they were all fallen trifle, damp souffle. We children were unseen furniture to be sat upon or dusted or sent for reupholstering come spring and fall, with a yearly cleansing at the beach.