This past weekend I laughed while I was doing dishes and out of my mouth came my mother’s voice clear as a soprano bell. The sound drew my mind to what we would be doing if she and my grandmother were with me in my kitchen, sipping coffee, chatting, making connections between this day and the past, without cynicism, without fear, without the thought of risk, just being women weaving a warm blanket of memories for our family. Remembering was something we did together. Now I think, how will I remember the brittle anxiety of today when it slides into my past with its sharp edges and longings? Will I savor the sweet chewy center of new love in a new home? Will these days pillow into comforting reveries? Will I find gratitude?
My grandmother did not have an easy life, but she remembered her story with a tenderness I envy. She was born in 1907 to my great-grandparents who were born in the 1880s and died in the 1960s. I remember them, their house and their funerals. My mother loved them. In their time, my great-grandparents knew people who had lived through the Civil War. My grandmother’s Great Uncle Glen fought for the Union army. For a very long time she kept his wartime pewter cup and wooden-handled knife and fork as a shrine on her walnut dresser. Now my memories bridge the generations. I knew someone who knew someone who fought in the Civil War. It wasn’t that long ago.
In 1928, my great-grandmother was not at my grandmother’s wedding because her son, Glen, the young namesake of Great Uncle Glen, was dying of tuberculosis. My great-grandmother chose to be at his bedside instead of at her daughter’s wedding, where she was notably absent in the wedding photo with my grandmother in her short flapper dress, exposing her foot bent crooked by polio, a disease that almost killed her, for which I was vaccinated in elementary school 40+ years later. In my grandmother’s time it was quite common for people to die of infectious disease.
My grandmother lived through WW1, had her first daughter in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression, then came WW2, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, all the assassinations, Desert Storm and the War in Iraq. But she didn’t talk about strife. She read the newspaper every day in the chair beside her pencil and dictionary where she habitually completed the daily crossword puzzle. She watched Jeopardy and she knew all about everything, but she didn’t dwell on the bad times. She didn’t lecture me on what she survived. Until she died in 2010, she was just thankful to wake up in the morning and greet the day.
I was born in 1954 and I’ve seen all the world’s great tragedies on TV, but so far, I have personally experienced none of them. Now a fast-moving crisis has gathered on the horizon, and it will make landfall in my life. I’m looking for role models. The ritual of doing dishes calms my spirit. I drift in and out of time in the sanctuary of wet hands where nothing is more important than a sudsy sponge wiping lipstick from glass. Rabbit holes beckon and I tour them, seeking gratitude and comfort in my own warm blanket of memories.