My grandmother lives in endless summer. She is the sea in its many moods. Sunlight-scattered sparkling. July blue. Calm and green. Gray and forbidding. The hissing sibilance of the water's edge.
She is a salt-marsh in morning fog. A half-hidden heron in the reeds. The solitary cry of a gull. She is a fiery sunset over Cape Cod Bay. Wind-blown whitecaps. Crashing green breakers along the Great Beach.
She is the old Cape. A poverty of living and a richness of life. A weathered shingle cottage along a twin-rutted road. Scrub-pine and bayberry. Ever-shifting dunes tenuously bound by seagrass. The evening glow of a driftwood fire. The deep Atlantic darkness of the night-watch.
Yet there was nothing simple about her. She was also trolley bells and tangled traffic. The old downtown all dressed up for Christmas. Smartly-tailored skirts and prim fashion. Nickel matinees and Clark Gable at the Rialto. The life of the party and Benny Goodman at the Roseland. Movietone News and black market sugar.
All of this and more besides.
Whatever I say will be inadequate. I cannot tell the truth about my grandmother because I do not know it. She always kept part of herself to herself. She was a city girl who longed for the solitude of the Cape, back when solitude could still be found there. That was where she was most at home. That was where she was most herself. She will not submit to words, but if I stand alone at the edge of the earth and listen to the churning surf, sometimes I can feel her spirit. That will forever have to be enough. I loved her and she loved me. That is my truth.
My earliest memories of her are not really memories at all, but images. A collage of family photographs, home movies, stories told and retold. Silently, they shift and flicker, in distorted color and flashes of light, until I am unsure whether I remember the event or only the Super-8.
A shaky zoom shows my fresh-minted face. I am baby-blond and red Dr. Denton's. My mother is Ivory soap and baby's first Christmas. My grandparents so nimble the film seems sped-up. Nana claps her hands in delight, laughing. The camera pans to me too late. We are all smiles, then suddenly black. Were we all ever really this young?
She stands before her rambling Cape. I toddle across the sand-speckled lawn. With surprising speed she scoops me up. We sit in a cane-backed rocker. The MS has not yet taken her left side. She is vitality and a lime-green sundress. We squint in the too-bright August sun. She bends her head close to mine, sharing a secret. I clap my hands in delight, laughing. We are all smiles, then suddenly black. What did she say to me?
We sit at the counter stools in her kitchen. My feet do not quite touch the floor. The ancient Hotpoint hisses reassuringly. A teakettle gurgles a whispering hint of a whistle.
Always put water on to boil when you start cooking, Christopher. Remember that. You'll probably need it. And if you don't, you can always make yourself a nice cup of tea later. All right? Good boy. Dice these vegetables for me, will you? Do you remember what we call this?Um... mirepoix?Good boy. Mirepoix. Let's see if you've been paying attention, hm? Ready? Here's an easy one. Amandine?Almonds.Florentine?Spinach.Veronica?Grapes.Lyonnaise? No? Onions, Christopher. Onions. Remember that. All right? Good boy. Who loves you, baby? Your Nana, that's who.
I cannot tell the truth about my grandmother because I do not know it. Though I was as close to her as she ever allowed anyone to get, she shared with me only what she chose. That was who she was. Yet I like to think that she gave me herself as best she could. That will forever have to be enough. She loved me from the beginning. I loved her until the end. We loved each other as we were and that is enough. That is my truth.