October 16th, 2005

Coffee Squirrel

Dear Granny: Being the first in my letters to the Dead

I don't get pleasure from watching people waste away. I'm sure from wherever you are, you are bored with watching me do the same. I hope there are some things that earn your pride in me. You may not have a gregarious granddaughter here with the living, but you have one who cares for others, likes to watch people(and take notes) and has an infectious giggle. I hope that's good enough for you.

I want to know more about your lost months. I want to know what you did when you were away from Pops (yes, my paternal grandparents were called Granny and Pops. How cool that was didn't dawn on me until now. They were the real deal and now they're together elsewhere). What made you come back? He was nearly six feet, seven inches tall. You were tiny. You weren't even five feet. You're my prototype. We're both small. What did you not get to do, pretty lady with the round face and salt and pepper hair? Should I take up your mantle? Marry big and sink into the background? What made you go back?

I sure didn't get your skill in the kitchen. I think there's a shred of your loyalty. You stayed with Pops over 50 years. You only parted permanently with death. And we were all surprized he hung on so long after you were gone. Both of you gave me your endurance. How else could I have hung on to this nothingness and let life speed by all these years.

What were your plans when you left? Were you just looking for a bit of peace for a while? All those kids. All those damned kids. I would have needed a break, too. But you came back. You came back and let me have peace in your house after you'd long earned your own. All those kids. And you let your son, his wife and six of their kids stay above you for so many years. Even when we got our own place, I came back because no one wanted to. But the quiet wasn't a pleasure when you were sick. I was a teen. I was already withdrawn. I didn't want to do everything I could for you because that would be an admission. It would be me admitting you were dying. We let you down. I let you down. You shouldn't have had to watch your house fall apart because ungrateful brats didn't want to clean it when you were no longer able.

I want to know what you were planning to tell my mother. It was like a movie. You waited until your daughter was out of the room -- is that how it went? -- and you wanted to tell my mother something. But you died instead. What did you want to say? There was no letter left behind, like a movie, to tell us what it was. It died with you. Like a lot of things died with you.

We had no more holiday dinners together after you left. You were the glue, you know. You're smiling in your photos. Your hair is neatly coiffed. Your house is clean. How did you do it? Were you just glad you had us? Were your own kids and we grandkids enough? Did we make your life full? Did it make up for cleaning Mrs. Parkhill's house for over 20 years? Maybe that's why I hate cleaning so much. It's such a power thing. It's not just my damned older brothers not taking their turn at doing the dishes: "They didn't do their day, why should I do mine?". It's also you, even in the 1980's, toiling away and keeping house for some white woman to pay for a house for your kids and grandkids. Then coming home and cleaning and cooking for your husband. And for us, as you know you were a better cook than our mother. I don't know why I didn't take the time to learn. I still can't cook. Would you be ashamed, or just laugh the infectious laugh I inherited from you?
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