Sunday, October 4, 2015
It is hard to know precisely if that light was imagined or real. One thing's for sure: Staring at the place where one blink formed a focal point will not assure that the blink will occur again any time soon. Or maybe it will ... you never know on a summer's night within the half-seen hedge rows.
This morning I awoke thinking of Frank's grandmother. Blink, blink. Whether the skein of thought was true or simply woven out of personal need, I don't know. Perhaps what I remember is true; perhaps it is just woven and embellished because I long for something to love and Frank's grandmother, true or false, is a small, chosen light.
Mostly I knew Frank's grandmother according to what Frank told me, but even that has grown wispy with the passage of time. Since I cannot know what is false and what is true, I choose to think it true and warm myself by the wonders I confect. Still, I do not even remember her name.
Frank's grandmother came to the United States in 1918. She came with her two young sons, following in the footsteps of a husband who had gone on ahead to create a new life in a new world. She came from Sicily and rode, like many hard-scrabble immigrants, on one of the lower decks of the ship that placed first-class passengers in the decks above.
While Frank's grandmother rode below decks, a wealthy man came down from above. He had entered into a May-December marriage that was destined to be childless and he offered to buy one of Frank's grandmother's sons. The suggestion was not so outlandish then as it may appear today: What parent would not wish the best for his or her child and which would not recognize the grinding power of poverty? Frank's grandmother refused and so Frank's father and uncle remained brothers beneath a single roof.
I met Frank's grandmother when Frank suggested I go with him to a dinner his grandmother would prepare. Frank and I were Zen students together -- friends -- and so I accepted.
I do not even remember what Frank's grandmother looked like, but in my hedge row of memory she is petite and wiry and straightforward as a paper clip. Her apartment was in a brick complex and was filled with just two things -- pictures of family and the aging palm fronds and votive candles of her Catholicism. In memory, I had an instant sense that this was a person of simple substance, with an equal emphasis on each word ... simple ... substance. She must have been in her 80's and it was clear as a fire fly -- this was a delightful person that was not to be fucked with.
As I recall it, Frank's grandmother did not want us coming into the kitchen to help her prepare the meal. That would have been improper. She was the cook. Period. A woman's work was what she did and she was not about to have her given role usurped. Frank and I sat at the table. She brought the food. We ate. That was the way of things. Period.
She had journeyed from Sicily with a saying Frank told me she was fond of: "Eat slow, but eat a lot." Imagine that -- from a land of "eat slow, but eat a lot" to a country whose prim forefathers were fond of Ben Franklin's admonition, "eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation." Frank's grandmother had her feet on the ground.
Nor was she shy about standing that ground. Frank told me that when the good-deed-prone Catholic priest would call on her from time to time, she would cuss him up one side and down the other for getting the prayers and rituals "wrong." She wasn't about to sit still for some whippersnapper and his improved theologies.
The dinner was everything and more a fire fly might deliver. I think I may still be digesting it. "A lot" is an understatement. I came away with a full belly and a distinct sense, however fabricated, of who and what Frank's grandmother was.
The next time I saw Frank's grandmother, she was in the intensive care unit in a hospital. The room was full of stainless steel and white sheets and deadly-neutral-colored walls covered with high-gloss paint. It drove me crazy from the moment I entered the room. I was wild to get a crucifix or palm frond or family portrait to put on the wall. This was a death chamber. Naturally such home-brewed bits of humanity were not allowed because they had germs. It was inhuman and inhumane in my mind ... a person on death's doorstep who must be kept free of what brought her life. Talk about "what-the-fuck!?"
I expressed myself to Frank and I don't know if his grandmother ever made it out of the ICU before she died. I like to think she died at home beneath a sappy Hallmark-calendar rendition of Jesus. At the wake, I received a little playing card with a picture of Mary and some Christian verse ... a small momento of Frank's grandmother. The card is still around here somewhere, but Frank's grandmother is still a fresh penny in my mins.
Frank's grandmother. Blink. Blink. How tall and telling in my mind -- a reminder in some small, bright way, that being who you are is possible and pulling the reins is for sissies. "Be alive!" her come-and-gone blink instructs in my mind.
True or false, does it matter?
I may just have made it all up among the hedge rows of memory ... does it matter?
From where I sit, it's still true, fabrications and all.
When I grow up, I want to be Frank's grandmother. Not really, of course, but still ... really.