Friday, April 18, 2008

for Midgie

Dear Mary,

My earliest memories are of your home. It was a retreat, a playground, replete with treats and marvels. I spent hours of my childhood sifting through boxes of costume jewelry (which I never saw you wear) or scheming to get into the cookie jar (shaped like a cow) where I knew I'd find Milanos or Fudge Stripes. Yours was a home filled with comfort and mystery: apothecary jars, glass figurines, towers of books, bottles of rose-scented lotion, and your father's desk, crammed with secret cubbyholes and coin collections. I was certain that your backyard, with a swing on the cherry tree and a pool we weren't *supposed* to jump into, was my happiest place on the planet.

After we moved to Tennessee, I mythologized you. We were removed by distance from the daily annoyances of generation gaps, necessary discipline, family conflict. I wrote you hyperbolic letters and believed that perhaps you would intervene and force my parents to grant my dearest wish (which was to have my ears pierced). I read you the lyrics to Missing You by John Waite over the telephone. You sent the most fabulous and thoughtful birthday boxes, which were always late but legendary.

It is from you that I am sure I inherited my tendency to lavish affection on animals, having conversations with them, sneaking them treats. I developed a love of word puzzles and classic novels from years of sharing them with you. When I was young my mom told me about many Christmas eves when she would hear you up late, crying, overwhelmed because you had so many presents to wrap and had waited until the last minute. Even as a little girl, I recognized my own tendencies in this story, the likelihood that I would procrastinate and then be angry with myself, the self-pity, the desire to do everything for everyone and make everything the most special, the most perfect.

When I was younger, I was sure I had been granted two of the most opposite grandmothers possible. In comparison to my father's brash mother, who brooked no bullshit and used that word often, yours seemed a mild-mannered, profanity-free life. Hazel had been married often, lost husbands in wars, kept a lot of convenience foods in her vast freezer, and governed her entire family (almost none of whom were related by blood) with guilt and sass. In contrast, you were soft-spoken, a little bit silly, devoted to your church, reserved in dress and a total pushover. Even when you were angry, which wasn't nearly as often as it should have been, there was an optimism to it, a disappointment in the offending party because you expected more of everyone else around you.

I can see it clearly now: you and Hazel were united by a single driving force that provided you with a life's purpose and also something to talk about with each other, despite being on opposite sides of an historical divide. You both loved and protected your family with a fierceness that can't be captured in words, and by which I find myself shaped every day of my life. It moves me the way other people are moved by ambition or desire.

As your memories and realities faded, you kept your sweet demeanor and curious nature. Your face, as it grew more and more blank, was still always smiling. I haven't had a conversation with you that related to our real lives in years. It's like you've been gone the whole time. And now you really are, you were gifted your wish of a peaceful passing, and somehow it's made you more real in my mind than you have been in a long time. My sisters and I are flying to San Jose today for your memorial, and I'm planning the menu for the April birthday party at Bill's house after a service at the church. Wednesday night I dreamed that the food wasn't ready and there were hungry boys everywhere (and a lion) and I was deciding to cook churrasco even though we didn't have a grill or any meat marinating. And then you were there, and you gave me this long, strong hug, and I was filled with a rush of power and gratitude and light that I carried with me long after I woke up, got dressed, moved on with my day.

There is no less trite way to say it: our family was blessed to have you at the start of it. You brought countless discoveries and beauties into our lives, and I don't think any of us are going to ever stop missing you. Thank you for always bringing and keeping us together, and for giving us all the strength and intelligence to also go our own ways, wherever that has been. I'm hoping for another visit with you in my dreams soon. There is still so much I can't wait to tell you.

3 comments:

Vickie said...

Ah, you make me cry--not so much for her leaving us, as for what she left behind. I am so thankful that she was my mother and your grandmother. The Greeks call it "kleos"--she'll be remembered forever because she's a story worth telling.

Cynthia said...

Delaney, this is lovely. I am so glad I had a chance to meet her once. I remember that sweet smile too -- it was partly a smile to herself and partly to make sure you didn't worry about her. There was something so gentle and gracious about her, even in those later days. Looks like she left you all with a lot of love.

laura said...

This is a beautiful tribute, Delaney. Thank you for writing it.