A series of this and that found in some long-forgotten file folders in my basement. Specifically, this is a piece I wrote a while ago about my mom and hers; part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.
A disproportionate number of the mental pictures I have of my grandmother involve her driving a car that she could not have had – a gold 1968 Cutlass Supreme. (I’m told she actually drove a white and green Hudson.) In her Cutlass, my grandmother drives all over the countryside to pick up “the ladies” – women I imagine to be in their late seventies, though she is in her forties – for Wednesday morning coffee, or as my grandpa said, for her “hen parties.” She also backs her Cutlass down the lane with the lights off, since it is not the neighbor’s business where she is going all the time. When there is yardwork to be done, she single-handedly hefts the lawnmower into the trunk and drives to that nosy neighbor’s house to help out.
I am aware that, along with having faulty, sometimes absurd, details, my imaginations of my grandmother can also be erroneous in their selectivity. I don’t like it, for example, that she rode an Amtrak train all the way out to California to be treated by a quack who made her lay for days at a time in a coffinlike box packed in mud, so I try not to think about that. I do, however, like it that while she was in California, she visited her brother Oscar and his new wife, Millie, who took her to Disney World (which she could have done without because she thought it too materialistic and fake). I don’t like that she was reputed to be a poor housekeeper, so every time I think of that, I remind myself that she was probably so busy with relationships that the housework merely fell by the way. I like it that she drew a landscape with blue and green chalk on the wall of the tack room in the barn that lasted for me and my cousins to see (it may be there still, if the barn is). When I imagine my grandmother, it is important to me to explain away her faults, her failings, her fragility, even to myself.
The most recurrent image I have of my grandmother is one where she is standing in a field about thirty feet away (from me?) from the road. It is July. She is wearing a light blue dress with small flowers of many colors. The dress buttons all the way down the front and comes to the middle of her calves. I know that she is barefoot, though she is standing up to her knees in soft, brown weeds. She is turned away so that I can’t see her face, but I know she is smiling. She holds one hand on her slender hip and one hand on her red straw hat, which, though its brim is too large, offers no shade. Sometimes one arm is outstretched, but the other is always holding the hat. Her gold car sits on the side of the road, and in it is the five-year-old who will grow up and become my mom, but the car is behind me and out of my line of vision, so I don’t know what the little girl is doing. Maybe she is on her scraped knees, leaning out the open window, crayons spilled on the passenger side, coloring book on the middle seat.
What inspires this image of my grandmother in the middle of a field is my mom’s story of a time that her mom’s hat blew away when she had pulled over to the side of the road to “go to the bathroom.” In Mom’s version, my grandmother never finds the hat. When I imagine my grandmother standing in that field, I consider myself to be retelling the same story. In my version, though, she never, ever has to urinate, though I do not have another explanation for why she would be standing alone in a field twenty miles from home on such a bright and windy day. Even in my own mind, I can’t, or won’t, make my grandmother subject to her bodily functions any more than I can imagine the thick, pussy scab that my mom remembers seeing once when a nurse was giving her mother a bath, shocking and horrible evidence of her disease. In my version of my grandmother stopping on a dusty country road on a hot and gusty summer’s day, there is no breast cancer in her future. And she finds her hat.
But, of course, my version is not the actual and whole truth.