Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Letter To You

Dear Grandma Stone,
Last night I stepped out of the shower and grabbed a clean towel from the closet, started to dry my face, and stopped. I took a long, sweet, inhale of that towel which smelled exactly like the ones I’d pull from beneath your bathroom sink as a child. That wood-soaked, fresh-laundry smell, hinting slightly of shelf liner and extra bars of soap, transported me back into your house, into the hall bathroom, and I was 5, 7, 13 again, stepping out of your shower and onto the yellow carpet. There were the Picasso-esque New Orleans jazz players on the wall at my right, the brass floor rack that held extra towels by the double sink, the soap dish that cradled mysteriously shaped soaps I was always too scared to use. I didn’t want to mar them. I used the pump dispenser.
And when I went to bed last night I couldn’t get you or your house out of my mind. Was it because it was your birthday and I hadn’t called? Was my obsession motivated by guilt? I laid in bed for over an hour and walked through your home in my memory. Like a 360-degree video clip I scanned each room; the walls, the contents of the cupboards, the index card labels on each box and carton written in black sharpie. Walking into your home always filled me with such a sense of peace; the smells, the quiet jazz station playing from the radio on the counter, the cleanly order of each room, dusted and sparkling perfection. Your home was one of the few places I felt I could truly escape, even amidst the turmoil of life and work and motherhood, and no matter my age, where I could stretch out my arm for the soft caress of your fingers. I imagined all this and for a brief, fleeting moment, felt like things were still as they were. And you still lived there on Manhatton Drive and I could still go to you for respite. In your presence I could always breathe deeply, unencumbered by life.
Dad had taken me through your home when it was empty and cleaned, the walls sterilized with fresh white paint, the new windows draft and rattle free. Walking in sucked the breath from my body as if every beautiful thing and all the magic and all our history in those rooms had been wiped clean, existing only in particles of eraser dust on the crisp, virgin carpet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to that house then. I’m not really ready to say goodbye to you now.
Is that why I imagined your home so vividly last night? Did you know about today somehow, and send me those beautiful memories to help make today easier for me? It did a little. I think.
You’d be glad to know I’m surrounded by you in my home. I go to bed and wake up every morning seeing your painting; the nude you painted in art class hangs in gold frame on my ice blue bedroom walls. It’s the most perfect place for that piece, the room bringing out the best in the aquamarines and browns. I stare at that painting and try to imagine what you were like at that age, try to imagine you painting it, what you might have been wearing, the strokes of your hands as you laid the oils on canvas. Your other painting hangs in my living room, your dishes are in my kitchen cupboards, I pour tea from the crystal pitcher you gave me, your beautiful crèche adorned my holiday mantel. You are everywhere here. And yet, you live most vibrantly in my memories of plywood play sets and green felt advent trees, red suitcases filled with special toys, and dolls from faraway lands. Wicker ducks and chickens that laid candy once a day, and a closet full of strange and exciting toys I’d never seen and didn’t have at home. The smell of your lipstick and Bill Blass perfume. Your closet that housed a menagerie of necklaces and jewelry. The way you set a beautiful table. Your gift for gracious hostessing. Your bible verses and quotes on the side of your refrigerator. Your never ending lists of things to do, to make, to order, to cook, to prepare for.
I was coming to visit, in three short weeks (now three long weeks), to hold your hand and sit by your bed and keep you company. I would have brought you chocolate covered ginger even if you could have only smelled it. I wanted to show you the book I just published, even if I only read you a few pages. In my heart, did I suspect this might happen? Perhaps. But even when we know what the future holds, it’s still difficult isn’t it Grandma? And although I know there was rejoicing in heaven today when you got up there and that this day was the best of your life, right at this very moment it doesn’t console me much.
I could wax poetic forever about the childhood memories you gave me and the endless ways you made me feel special. But the value of those recollections matter to no one but my own heart. And now, in heaven you know them all. There is nothing left to say except I’m sorry I didn’t call you yesterday. 
I love you.
I'll miss you.