Thursday, December 11, 2008

For Keeps

(One of my classes - writing - has only four folks in it this session, so I write with them. Here's what I wrote in class in response to my own prompt "For Keeps" in which I encourage them to picture a box in front of them, a 'gift" from the last few weeks of their lives...)

This was written with both hands - parts in my left hand (non-dominant) are in italics.

Why is a box defined as a square? We can have a round box, but you have to qualify it with the word "round".

My grandmother had hat boxes, but never wore hats. She claimed they hurt her head. It hurts my heart to think of her but instead of dread there's just sadness.

Before she was even dead I claimed the bits and baubles of her closet coffers belt by belt, scarves slithered into sleeves so no one could see but I could sense the silk. Honestly, I only ever stole from my family. This there a symbol in this? Storing her away, close to me, polyester shred and old rhinestoned lipcases somehow keeping her alive to me.

I wonder where her comforter went. Rayon with roses, rimmed in lace.

It was no secret she hated my mother. She did not hide this. But she also had her pride. So they played nicey nice even after her son, my father, died. When the going got tough, I stole away to her closet.

I still have pictures of me from then. Awkward-looking but I didn't feel that way. I was liberated, my hair tied up 20 directions til Tuesday, grinning next to grandma, who had come to hate life.

It wasn't always that way. When I was little she would show me off to her friends at Friday fish fry or at line in the supermarket. Grandchild pride - stationed in the passenger seat of her Pontiac. And she didn't mind being single, retired. She was social.

But if you live to 84 a lot of those you love die first. Her friends. Her son. Even her ex-husband. And then she just didn't want to go on.

High heels with wide toes. Granny clothes I would never wear now. Me spreading hot green cat's cradles in her lap, seeing a laugh.

I know how she felt. She was hiding in her head, far from her heart. That tiny room I knew well - I lived in it at home. I was shocked to see her truly, finally, really alone. No clip on earrings with dangling plastic purple jewels, no matching sky blue polyester pants suits, no drawers full of respectable negligees were going to bring her back from the ice burnt ice cream, cat food instead of clam chowder, accidental world of no longer wanting that she lived in.

Until recently I hoarded these memories, afraid if they saw light, they'd die.

But that box was so small and tight. I would hand it to life and hope it would open on accident, like a present dropped but not broken. It never worked.

Now I am learning to let go.
Goodbye Grandma - enjoy the snow.
Goodbye Dad - I hope there are crossword puzzles for lads like you in heaven.

And what is in my box? Batches of nothing. Joyous emptiness. All potential and no past. The best present - being present. Remove the clutter, pull off the polyester and under it all, underneath, 11 year old me is still eager, un-self conscious, breastless and breathless. That's what can be - not me then, but now, all possibility.

  • purses
  • pencils
  • poison
  • pantry
  • parcel
  • parts
  • pale
  • palor
  • pint
  • purple
  • placemats
  • punky
  • puke
  • purloined
  • placard
  • pointless
  • placating
  • plain
  • pumice
  • pricey
  • plastic
  • pumas
  • pennies
  • pan
  • pushover
  • prize-winning
  • pizzazztastic
  • precious
  • parted


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I think I'll read it again after the first time has sunk in. It is so personal that it becomes universal. I can feel the love and complication that is family.

  2. Thanks, Kate. I can understand why you would need time for it to sink in, considering your last year or so!