I have wandered through this world As each moment has unfurled . . .
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams.
People go just where the will,
I never notice them until
I’ve got this feeling that it’s later than it seems . . .
Jackon Browne, Doctor My Eyes
I have this memory haunting me lately, every time I walk out back to what has begun to look like a garden. Standing there the other night, feet firmly planted under honeysuckle vines and wanting to never leave, this memory from the past wound itself around my ankles and through my chest. Sixteen? Not sure anymore. Standing in my Grandma’s backyard watching her sturdy fingers weaving grape vines through lattice, the sun tripping across her movements like gold and red water in the late afternoon. My god. What I would give now to help her with that work, when then? I was all I’m bored. She was all pay attention, Kathi. And is if by magic, ahem, this snippet of time imprinted itself upon my heart and leaves me aching for the sight of her bitten nails in grapevine.
And it draws me in. I have another memory: a metallic blue car with white leather interior, a Sunday drive (me, longing for a smoke, her, longing for a glass of iced tea) and a winding country road that led to her Aunties’ home. You know that feeling? You’re young, don’t want to go and have the time of your life while looking sullen? We’re such assholes as children. Can you see me? An ass of a wile chile with long, dark hair sitting at a rustic table eating biscuits made with lard, drizzled in molasses, drinking coffee swimming in crunchy grounds and desperately trying to put on a miserable face? Oh yeah. I had the time of my life. Two other scenes sallie up alongside this moment: the bathroom had a clawfoot tub in porcelain and a heavy, white-framed mirror tipped at an angle that looked precarious and dangerous–I had NO intention of looking in that glass. Outside, on a porch that looked a bit more like a pirate deck, another porcelain tub stained the most luscious shade of purple. Screens strung and hung from ceilings, strange bottles in dusty corners . . . and the distinct smell of fermented grape permeating every inch.
And then . . .
Driving home, the sun going down and my Grandma pursing her lips together before saying thank you for coming with me, Kathi.
What an asshole I was. Someone posted on Facebook a little picture that said Sometimes I just want to go back in time and punch myself in the face. Oh, hell yeah. Over and over. Bodyslam myself into the red clay like the punk I was–and insist a few things, like:
Take a damn journal with you. Write down every word these women say.
Pay attention, idiot. One day, you won’t be able to call her on the phone and ask how much cocoa goes into the pie, or that trick to make meringue rise, or how long a pot roast should simmer, or how she fell in love with that man who would be your grandpa. You know. The one you never got to meet. Idiot.
Wrap your hands around her neck. Whisper, scream, sing how much you love her. Tell her how she saved you when you wanted to die behind a dumpster in New Jersey. Kiss her sweet cheek, breath in her skin. Do it again. Idiot.
Just once, plant her a flower like she did for you. Rake her yard instead of listening to AC/DC while some hired hand takes her money. And, for god’s sake, stay on that porch ten more minutes when she tells a story. Shut the hell up. She doesn’t need to know your childish angers, frustrations and desires. You need to know HERS. For soon, no one will ever again . . .
Don’t get on that bus headed for Texas. For heaven’s sake, turn around. She’s crying, right under the Greyhound sign, one hand over her mouth. One day, the memory of what happened in Texas will choke you, but laws, the memories you could have made that year cooking in that dark, wooden kitchen will torture you for its loss. Turn around. Idiot.
No one, I mean no one, gives you her wedding ring because she cannot bear the anguish her first grandchild feels at not having one while walking around eight months pregnant. Guard it with your life. Your first ex-husband is going to pawn it for drugs, dumbass. And it’s going to break her heart. (But she will never tell you.) And no man, I mean no man, is ever going to love you that much. Idiot.
Record that time you finally get her to sing Sweet Home Alabama on the front porch after dinner. She’s eighty. Singing Lynryd Skynyrd like there’s no tomorrow. (Hey, idiot: THERE ISN’T.)
Tell her: no one will ever make me lemon cake like you do. And the rest of my life, I will long for the taste of lemons and the sound of your voice on my birthday. Damn it.
(Don’t say Damn It. She doesn’t hanker to cursing. Stop breaking her heart just because she will let you.)
Yes. I have been haunted lately by a memory, called a life. When I become injured that my children refuse to learn my recipes, check out when I plant my herbs and dismiss my advice as intrusive and unwise . . . I remember. Karma. Hi there. How are ya?
But for myself . . .
I make wine like my Great Aunties. I roast beef nice and slow, not forgetting the salt. I sing M and M and Little Whoever rap, never tell them when they break my heart, ask them to remember their grandfather when his face becomes misty in their memory and put up with sullen faces at the moments that will crush their soul when I’m ash. It’s legacy, this kind of lovin’, and the best I can hope for is that one day I will drive a grandchild to see my mother . . . just a longing for a glass of sweet tea while they long for a smoke.
Hell, I might just have one with them. You never know what makes the memory.
Someone asked me the other day what makes things magic. Well, darlin, I can’t tell you that one. You got to feel that, and sometimes it rips through you like a kidney stone, while somedays it hangs in your nose like late honeysuckle after a hard rain. But, I can tell you what makes you immortal:
Let some soul love you. Write down all those recipes that made them heal. Sing their songs off-key and with abandon like the shell-shocked rhythm of your heart. Tell all your stories like there’s no tomorrow. ‘Cause of: there’s not one.
I knew her death would break me. I used to sob in bed (to the great dismay of my lovely mother) at the tender age of four about her impending death–that took four more decades to come to fruition. And it did, it outright broke my damnable idiot heart. But there’s more . . .
I have found myself considering the cycles of the earth in the old ways that sustained my childhood. Save the seed from the fruitful, tenacious plants for they will yield the sweetest harvests. Ignore claims that “new and improved” seed is better–sometimes, that mutt seed shoves through mud and blood and rock and sinew in the most belligerent, warrior manner. From these plants? A strong line. When everyone gave up on me, Granma knew better. When everyone thought “bad seed,” she hung on–preserving that potential energy in my hard, knotted shell for a time that even she wouldn’t be privy to see. When I forgot that I was a strong seedling, she watered the stalk of my life and defended my wiley limbs. And with the sun set and gone to the other side of the world, I remembered her warmth against my leaves and fought for dear life. Idiot? Oh, laws yes. Her legacy?
You better damn well believe it.
May the circle be unbroken.
Aka: Katharyn’s Granddaughter
P.S. Grandma: A boy came along and loved my eyebrows like you did, holds me when I’m sick and thinks I hung the moon. Thanks for sending him. He bought me lemon cake for my birthday. You have anything to do with that? Forever your wile chile, Tater Head