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grandmothers

aging, Family, Guest Posts

On Aging: Lessons From Mother and Grandmother

May 8, 2022
mother

By Chantal Laurie Below

 

I never knew Gaga without a cane. A drunk driver hit my paternal grandmother in her 50’s while she grabbed clothes from the trunk. Immediate surgery ensued where doctors attempted (successfully) to save her leg by fastidiously cleaning gravel from her flesh and performing skin graft after skin graft. The accident left her with a limp, chronic pain, and a concave thigh. Her wooden cane, hand painted with a chain of flowers by her daughter’s best friend, Millie, then accompanied her everywhere, along with a set of pillows and a floor stool she arranged and rearranged to find mild comfort while sitting. Those accouterments, along with my grandmother’s stooped posture and ever-shrinking 5-foot frame meant she seemed ‘old’ for as long as I could remember. She had skin spots, jiggly jowls, brittle nails, tissues tucked up her sleeve, and declining hearing that made her lean in and ask, ‘Say?’ when she needed something repeated. She had boobs so responsive to gravity’s pull over her 85+ years that she had to bend at 90 degrees and scoop them up in her bra. Her standard attire: cashmere cardigans with a pair of ironed slacks and orthopedic shoes. Her favorite show: CSPAN. These markers reinforced to my childhood self that Gaga must have been born old. She fit the part so well, perfectly cast as a loving, elderly matriarch.

Since Gaga contentedly rested in her recliner by day and exuded delight with a, ‘Hello darling girl,’ whenever I called, my child, teen and younger-adult selves didn’t consider all she’d had and lost over the decades: mobility, health, freedom, friends. But as I hover in middle age, I can’t help but wonder about the complexity of her aging experience.

My aunt and grandmother lived together in Little Silver, New Jersey in a split-level condo with bedrooms on the upper level. As a kid, I coveted the electric chair that took Gaga up the dozen plus stairs morning and night. Getting to ride it was infinitely more exciting than an airport escalator and a thrill just beneath a Six Flags roller coaster ride. ‘Why can’t weeeeeee get one?’ I begged my parents. I never considered that Gaga used to walk up those stairs, and then one day, she couldn’t. The risk of her falling backwards made the activity too unsafe. 44-year-old me now wonders what that chair represented to Gaga. Did she feel defeat on installation day? Or did she gracefully surrender to the reality of dwindling balance and fatigue?

Gaga drank a cup of joe every morning with a prune settled at the bottom. She hated prunes but they ‘kept her regular,’ offsetting the side effects of her bevy of meds. Once saturated in coffee, the taste of them became tolerable.  Did Gaga used to drink prune-free coffee on the go as she raced to drop kids at Red Bank Catholic, I consider now? Did she miss when coffee wasn’t an undercover laxative?

At the end of her life, she brushed her teeth with a Dora the Explorer mini toothbrush, the perfect size for her tiny mouth with bristles so gentle they wouldn’t harm her vulnerable gums. Could her body, years before, withstand a standard Oral B toothbrush? Did she buy a Nickelodeon branded one with humor or a twinge of pain, confronting the humbling interconnection of cradle and grave?

Peeking behind the curtain of Gaga’s more intimate transition into old age discredits my, ‘I’ll juke the curse of arthritis and osteoporosis because I wasn’t born old’ delusion. Being with her memory reveals a shocking and obvious truth: none of us are born old, but we’re bound for it, and all it entails, if we last long enough. 

My mother’s further proof of it. 

Mom used to dog-ear pages of Bon Appetit magazine and experiment with extravagant meals for dinner parties: gazpacho to start, coq au vin for the main, poached pears for dessert. We lived abroad as Americans which meant access to British and Parisian dinner guests for mom to impress over the fine meal and a full-bodied red. Among new friends she practiced foreign terminology with delight, letting ‘rubbish’ and ‘tres bien’ roll off her tongue. Once, at a Thanksgiving dinner she cooked, our rowdy family friends and fellow ex-pats, the Lynch family, helped us move the dining room table aside for a dance party and mom willingly rocked out to Tone Loc’s Funky Cold Medina.

While humble and South Bend, Indiana to her core, mom also seemed to be born glamorous. When The Big Chill came out, people stopped her in grocery aisles for her autograph, convinced they’d confronted Mary Kay Place. She insisted on ‘putting her face on’ every morning, religiously purchased Lancôme anti-wrinkle creams, and got her hair done every week with Aida at Scissors Palace. She wore a fur coat, gold bracelets, diamond earrings and patent leather heels to the Royal Ballet or a performance of Les Mis in the West End with visiting family.

Mom never sought adventure, but she married a curious, restless man in search of a wider view of the world and somewhat willingly served as the Lewis to his Clark. When my dad initiated a purchase of a Stratton, Vermont vacation home in the ‘80’s, she learned to ski as an adult in freezing temperatures where her anxiety tears turned to icicles at the top of the North American run. She boarded my dad’s first sailboat in her 40’s, wearing foul weather gear as they navigated the English Channel in fall; mom’s face expressed terror with every, ‘Jibe ho!’ She never loved skiing or boating, but got on the chair lift and boarded Merocha with an able body and can-do spirit that mirrored her Midwestern roots. 

For her entire adult life, mom never stopped moving.  She stood at attention for anything astray in the home. She noticed a lone mug that belonged in the dishwasher, a tilted painting on the wall requiring straightening, a water glass in need of a coaster.  She kept countertops organized, always found laundry to fold or iron, and ran errands to the dry cleaner or post office with the fervor of an Amazing Race contestant. When she walked multiple city blocks from Cullen’s market to our house on Redcliffe Road – carting grocery bags filled with orange juice, a baguette, and popcorn kernels – she’d grit her teeth, feel her fingers numb, and pick up her pace.

Mom wasn’t born old, but ‘old’ has been circling her for decades, like a mosquito buzzing in and out of her personal space being successfully swatted away.

In 1992, at 47 years old, mom had her first brain aneurysm. It ruptured, a stroke accompanied it, and thanks to quick, excellent care, she survived. She had a shaved scalp, couldn’t drive for months, got labeled ‘tremendously lucky’ and life went on. About a decade later, doctors discovered another aneurysm before it burst. They clipped it and reminded her, ‘You’re tremendously lucky.’ Mosquito swatted.

Then, she started falling. She’d fall on walks with a friend and come home with a black eye. She once fell down a flight of carpeted stairs and, while shocked, brushed it off like the Terminator. She tripped on steps that resulted in bloody knees and bruised shins but insisted, ‘I’m fine’ and hobbled around the house.

As the falls increased over the years, along with mood changes and confusion, mom received a diagnosis of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), essentially fluid on the brain caused by head trauma. Six years ago, when mom turned 70, a neurosurgeon implanted a shunt in one of the ventricles of her brain and her symptoms largely reversed within a week. The doctors reinforced, ‘You’re tremendously lucky.’ Mosquito shooed away.

In March, 2021, I think the mosquito bit her.

Mom took a walk with her sister and barely made it a hundred yards before she fell. She somehow ricocheted off a truck’s bumper and then fell backwards on the concrete. She bled from cheek and scalp. A few weeks later, her eyesight began rapidly declining. ‘Optical nerve damage caused by the fall,’ the neuro-ophthalmologist reported, ‘It’s permanent but won’t get worse.’

Then, on Mother’s Day, she lost the ability to walk or speak; my father rushed her to the emergency room. They adjusted her shunt, her mobility and use of language returned, and she checked into a rehab facility for physical and occupational therapy. Dissatisfying incremental improvements led doctors to consider the possibility of a faulty shunt. In July, she had more brain surgery to replace it. Slow and steady progress post-surgery built hope. Then, in August, mom lost her balance in her dressing room, fell, and broke her arm.

Since last March mom’s been so unsteady on stairs she needs a railing and my dad’s assistance to maneuver up and down them. She can’t drive, cook, apply makeup, or read anymore since her sight is so compromised. Activities like emptying the dishwasher or loading laundry are risky now, able to throw her off balance, so she prioritizes wiping down countertops and reminding my dad to pick up her prescriptions. Her processing ability is impaired so conversations with more than one person prove hard for her to follow, determining when or how to interject alludes her. The most banal elements of life that normally live in the shadows as boring or unmentionable are suddenly center stage for her; going to the bathroom, bathing, getting in and out of a chair, and dressing are now time-consuming liabilities. She teeters when she walks, a bit like an overly confident toddler just finding their sea legs and seemingly tipsy off the grog. Those of us watching her are like overprotective parents wanting to honor her freedom while desperate to catch her if she falls. This growing instability means she sits a lot, listening to Gone with the Wind or watching the news and movies on TMC where she can only vaguely make out the blurry figures.

At 76, mom suddenly seems very old, and she’s gone from shooing a single mosquito to navigating a Louisiana swampland infestation of them. Now it’s her sight, balance, cognition, broken arm, and long-time arthritic knee. It’s a multi-front assault that accompanies questions without clear answers: When’s the right time for in-home care? How do we encourage hope? Can she really withstand that knee replacement surgery? Will a wheelchair keep her safe or erode her will? Is it safe to leave her alone?

I know seniors everywhere are grappling with similarly significant and emotionally fraught decisions – with consequences that are often crushing. 

It oddly reminds me of giving birth. After I had my first child, I took sitz baths to promote vaginal healing and walked around our house topless for weeks to give my raw nipples a fighting chance to heal. While nursing my daughter in the middle of the night I wondered with genuine alarm, ‘How is this something most women on the planet do? Why wasn’t I warned?’ While I can see the beauty of the postpartum experience, I struggle to see the beauty of the battle in which my mother’s an involuntary warrior. I do, however, wonder now, just as I did then, ‘How is this is something so many of us will do? Why wasn’t I warned?’

I feel warned now. And, I’m heeding the warning with vigor because ‘lasts’ are coming on a timeline I can’t foresee.

I’ve done ‘lasts’: last high school graduation, last day teaching 4th grade, last time living at 1010 Elsinore Ave. There was an unceremonious last time I carried my now 5’5 12 year old on my hip after years of lovingly, and often indignantly, responding to her ‘uppie’ requests. To date, ‘lasts’ have brought change, unearthing loss and possibility. But witnessing my mother’s decline alerts me to lasts on the horizon that seem devoid of possibility: the last time I leave my house or the last time I recognize my child. Mom and Gaga last walked up the stairs without assistance on a date no one can remember. 

I want to both stave off those unforgiving ‘lasts’ and savor my abilities now. I’m holding Warrior Three just a few extra breaths to strengthen my balance in yoga class. I’m planning a family whitewater rafting trip in Jackson to scratch my ever-present itch for outdoor adventure. I’m scheduling that platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection for my Achilles tendonitis so I can continue running with my neighbor. I’m working over-time to carpe diem while trying to quell the anticipatory distress: my life will one day become a series of unwanted ‘lasts.’

And yet, when I call to check in on mom and ask how she is, she offers an honest and uplifting, ‘Pretty good!’ followed by, ‘Didn’t do too much, really.’ Miraculously, grief doesn’t show up like a layer of suffocating wildfire smoke in our conversations. Instead, there’s gratitude for her physical therapist, (‘He is terrific, Chantal,’ she assures me), and glee over a Notre Dame football victory. Maybe it’s her declined executive functioning or her decades-lived-by-adage of, ‘It is what it is,’ that keep regret and depression at bay. Maybe it’s 76 years of a life well-lived that facilitates the acceptance of slower, simpler, less autonomous living.

Maybe it’s our human condition and commitment to survival. Dr. Diane Meier, geriatrician and founder of Mount Sinai’s Center to Advance Palliative Care, shared in the 70 Over 70 podcast, “It is remarkable how people adjust when finitude becomes visible. Things that our younger selves would have said would not have been a life worth living, we change our minds…We cannot know how we’re going to feel in the future when we might need a wheelchair or cane or dialysis. What seems completely unacceptable to our younger, healthier selves becomes acceptable when the alternative is death.”

I don’t know for sure why my mother’s so seemingly ‘fine’ when her aging process fills me with sadness and dread. I’m mourning the traveler, chef, and host she can no longer be and the identities I’ll lose as frailty becomes me. 

But witnessing her, and my grandmother before her, also offers me intellectual solace.

I passed by a young mother last week on her way from house to car whose journey down a dozen stairs with an infant and two toddlers looked harrowing. As she yelled, ‘Hold on to the railing!’ to a son who seemed more interested in face planting into concrete than heeding caution advice, I consciously noted, ‘I’m so happy not to be her anymore.’ Of course I miss the sensation of a sweaty baby nestled in an Ergo on my chest, but having lived through those days, the freedom of initiating an impromptu date night without scrambling for a sitter and the delight in reading The 57 Bus, not Good Night Moon, with my daughter is intoxicating. Maybe if I live to 76, I won’t miss Little League sideline chatter or our family’s annual hike of Yosemite’s Mist Trail. Maybe I’ll be grateful for the memories and content to recollect, not relive them. That’s implausible to me now but I believe that mom, even with her ailing mind and body, wouldn’t wish to be 44 again with all the chaos it entails. Maybe I’ll accept, even settle into, the stillness and narrowness of an elderly life that my current social and able-bodied-self rejects. Maybe.

Trusting that even slightly brings a modicum of peace.

I wasn’t born old. Neither was Gaga. She grew up playing Jacks with friends in Brooklyn, went to Hunter College at night, taught classes of 1st graders how to read, and loved Rusty, the family’s pet Doberman, as her first born. Mom wasn’t born old either. She was a cheerleader at St. Joe’s, accepted my father’s wedding proposal after the third date, snuggled with me as a 3rd grader while reading Bridge to Terabithia aloud, and massaged the weary hands of hospice patients as a volunteer. They both lived vibrant, long lives and then became old. And as old age descended, they befriended surrender and redefined what constituted a ‘good day’ and a ‘life worth living’ – an unexpected call from a grandkid, a walk on the beach, a pedicure, a brandy at cocktail hour – and found contentment.

It makes me desperate to live a long life, complete with suffering and loss that I can withstand, because I trust that life, even whittled down to its studs, is stunning. But I wonder, can I really become old – likely enduring heart disease, cancer, dementia, strokes – with joy and grace given the magnitude of loss that seems to be aging’s most reliable companion? Can I avoid the torment of regret if I never saw the Pyramids, reunited with a forgotten friend, or wrote that book when my faculties allowed it? Can I really shed the fear of what inhabiting an old person’s life and body means? I begin to imagine I can given the women who came before me. And maybe, just maybe, that will offer illusive serenity as old age draws near.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family, Guest Posts, The Body

Her Skin, My Skin

March 29, 2019
skin

By Niyati Evers

My mother discovered she was ill a few months after I was born. The way the story was told to me many years later, my mother had sat down in her favorite lounge chair in our living room and by the time she got up, the entire chair was covered in blood and poop. She’d been too ill to look after me, too sick to breastfeed me, too weak to hold me in her arms. A few months after my birth, while my mother was in and out of the hospital and my father was working full time to provide for our family, it was my Nana who mostly took care of me.

My older brother and sister were teenagers by the time my mother died. I was the toddler who’d been left behind. A toddler with the same dark hair and the same light blue eyes as the daughter Nana had lost. Because Nana had been my surrogate mum so soon after I’d been born, when Nana lost her husband and her only child, I was all Nana had left in the world. Nana lived to be with me and I lived to be with Nana.

There was a short gravel road that led from our backyard to Nana’s back garden, so short it only took a minute to walk from our house to Nana’s. I spent time with Nana almost every day of the week but each time I went to see her I was so overcome with excitement I did not walk but ran as fast as I could. Even if I stumbled and fell and my knees were covered in little gravel stones I just got right back up and I didn’t cry because I knew that in just a few seconds I’d be back with Nana. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Colors of Her Life

December 10, 2018
musicals

By Mackenzie Kiera

Lights.

You share two things with your dead grandmother: death and musicals. That’s all you have in common. Had. Since becoming pregnant, you’ve been thinking about her more and more. The weight of her disease falls on you, coils around your heart, tightens and reminds you of your own mortality.

You remember her easiest when you sit with Papa’s cologne bottle in the corner of your bathroom and inhale the dark pine scent—him, you miss. He was the grandparent you visited and called and loved. You were the granddaughter he doted on, bought ice cream for, took to UCLA to see Shakespeare, picked you up from school if you were sick and Mom couldn’t get you.

Her? She was in the background with rules. Things you couldn’t play with. Cabinets you weren’t allowed to open, soft drinks that were hers and hers alone. She always had dark chocolate ice-cream bars, salted potatoes chips, baby carrots and ripe, cherry tomatoes. String cheese. Tiny sandwiches. You’d watch as she spread the mayo on her sourdough bread thinly, gave it some lettuce, turkey and a slice of white precut cheese. Things she could just grab and never binge on, but sometimes she would just need something. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Hidden Love

March 30, 2018

By Jamie Della

She was a mystery, a ghost as close as my skin. I discovered her love through the scent of old photographs and White Shoulders perfume. And there she was: Della Ruiz Martinez, my nana.

I bought a bottle of White Shoulders when I discovered it was her favorite perfume. I was 19. The first whiff of bergamot is astringent and sharp, like her acerbic tongue. They say she could cut you to pieces with her words. She was a Scorpio woman: born on November 12, 1920 and died November 14, 1967 – 39 days before I was born. They say she happily anticipated the birth of her first grandchild. But liver disease prevented her from holding me in her loving arms. She became two-dimensional and flat: a framed image of young Della at four-years-old, a brown-skinned cherub with a crown of baby’s breath at an altar. They gave me her name as my middle name: an angel and a legacy. It was nearly twenty years before I saw another picture of her. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

Self-Care at the Hibachi on Hixson Pike, Because Sometimes You Just Can’t

June 2, 2017
text

By DeNeisha Stewart

“Girls night tonight! Me and A’Lauryn were thinking Hibachi at seven. That okay with you?” Kaylor asks. She stands at the changing table to take care of the second to last diaper of the day.

“That way we can get the rice to absorb some of the alcohol. I have to tell you about what happened with Brandon. She pulls Sophia off the table, making sure to keep on her glove to cover angry, red patches from the Hand, Foot, Mouth rash that Sophia has on her upper arms.

“Yes! Hibachi definitely works for me. Matter of fact, I’m gone get a Mai Tai to go with it after the week I’ve had. Between these summer classes and these kids and their diseases, I need a few drinks,” I say. I turn my head to look over at the seven kids watching ABC Elmo on the Ipad.

“Jacob, what did I tell you about hitting your friends? You use soft touches or you keep your hands to yourself.”

“Go find somewhere else to play,” I walk with his little fingers curling around mine to the library center. I plop him down dramatically in the child size blue chair and hand him Hands Are Not for Hitting.

“I definitely need a drink.” I say under my breath as I tilt my head back to rest next to Maxie, the green painted dragon, Kaylor drew on the wall. I lift up my left hand, roughly rubbing my forehead to dig into my eyebrow bone.

“Jesus Christ, Jacob, sit on you bottom in the chair. You know what, fall if you want. I don’t care.”

I hear my phone signaling a text message as I bend down to pull my black skater skirt up past my calf. After I finally get it up, tucking it firmly under my breasts, I see a notification from my granny, Dora, and then I notice the time, 7:00.

Shit, I’m already late and I really need tonight. Granny’ll have to wait.

I scramble to grab my black, low top Vans from under the desk chair; I sit down to slide them over my ashy feet as I stand to swipe the baby oil gel off my shelf. Squatting down, I quickly dab on some gel on the skin exposed to nosy eyes.

Picking up my keys, I look around, trying to remember something I’m forgetting. I grab for my purse on the foot of my bed and it falls, spilling stuff everywhere. Shit!

I slam stuff into my bag and toss is over my shoulder. I hear a PING as I rush through the living room and kitchen, running through the stench of my roommates’ leftover dead chickens and old breakfast tacos.

I really wish their mamas taught them how to take out the trash.

I notice the elevator closing, and I yell out for however was in it to hold it as I rush to get in. As the elevator, starts to sink towards the parking garage, before I open the text from Granny.

June 11th 7:10 pm
Text from Dora Hunter
He’s Dying. Dyson is dying.

“What?” I say to aloud, brows sitting low, nearly closing my eyes. What’s she talking about? I hear the rustling of fabric on jeans when the person in the elevator turns to be with a raised eyebrow.

“Nothing,” I say.

7:11
What’s wrong with the dog?

7:11
Text from Dominique Stewart
What happened?

I hop in the car, lip the ignition, and immediately put it in reverse. I plug in my IPhone to the auxiliary, cutting the bass up all the way, before I switch gears, I scroll to find the playlist I want before I look again at the text message, as I sit idle in the middle of the lane in the garage.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
What’s wrong with him, ma?

Looking at my mother’s text message,

Thank God Ma is handling it.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris Stewart
Ma?

I hit 40 in the 25 on Bailey Ave. merging left to hop on the highway to get to Ichiban: The Japanese Steakhouse in Hixson, TN.

7:14
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
MAMA? Text back or answer the phone. One.

On the highway, I hear another Ping. I reach down blindly; I pick up my phone hoping it is a text from my granny. Swerving close the street, I hear my tires bumping along as I cross over into the other lane by accident, jumping back over when I hear a car horn behind me.

“Shit!”

Thank you Jesus no one was there.

7:18
Text from Kaylor
Ok. Hurry up. A’Lauryn wants to know
about Brandon and I have to tell you guys at
the same time. Plus, they won’t seat us till you get here.

I look down at my phone quickly, sending out a text out a reply before I get to the turnpike. PING. Glancing down, phone in my hand I see another text from my grandmother. I wait to reply as I straighten the car, hitting 60 to try to merge as the car behind me speeds up to avoid letting me on.

You thought. Always want to speed up after the fact.

7:30
Granny? What’s wrong? Has he been sick?
Did a car hit him or something?

Finally at Ichiban, I hop out of the car to meet my co-workers.

I see Kaylor and A’Lauryn, sitting next to each other one, phones in hand. Probably Snapchatting.

Hey. She is going to seat us now. Come on! Snapchat can wait. Kaylor, you have to tell us about Brandon. What did he do this time?” I say.

I look over at A’Lauryn grey contacts under her false lashes, “How you been, Love? I haven’t seen you in a while. You still observing at the elementary school?” I ask.

“It’s good. I am working with 3rd graders at Brown right now. Still shadowing the teacher,” A’Lauryn replies.

“Do you like it?” I ask.

“Yea, its ok. I think I like high school better than elementary though. Yesterday, one of the little fuckers had the nerve to call me a bitch. And too my face, at that,” she says.

“Seriously, what did you do? ” I ask.

I hear her starting to respond as I sit down to the table for eight and hear another PING. I reply to the waiter, “Yes. Can I have water, please? With a lot of lemon?”

7:55
Text from Dora Hunter
I think it was cancer. He is has not been himself
the last couple of months. Not been eating.
He’s been sleeping a lot. That is just not my Dy-Dy.

“So, Kaylor what happened with Brandon?”

“Y’all my grandma’s dog is dying and she’s been texting me about it for almost an hour now,” I tell them.

“Really, what’s wrong with him?” A’Lauryn asks.

“She just texted me that she thinks it some type of cancer. Apparently he’s been sick a while. just never knew. He was fine when I saw him in March.”

“That’s so sad. I would be at home sobbing if Jim was dying of cancer,” Kaylor says. She looks over at me. “I bet your grandma is doing the same. How long has she had him?”

8:12
I’m sorry, Granny. Are you ok?

“He is about 8 years old. A Cocker Spaniel,” I tell her. “How long do they live on average, I wonder?”

“Google is your friend, my dear.” A’Lauryn says.

Typing Cocker Spaniel in my phone, I pull up the wiki page. “It says they live from 12 to 15 years. Well, shit.”

I look up to the waiter standing over me, before I give him my order, “Yes, can I have the steak and shrimp with fried rice? And can I get Broccoli and Mushrooms added to the other veggies? Thank you.”

I hear a PING.

8:23
Text from Dora Hunter
I am fine. Going to spend a little more time
with Dy.

“A’Lauryn, how is the boyfriend doing?”

This could not have happened at the worse time, I think to myself as Kaylor and A’Lauryn Snapchat the sashimi the waiter just dropped at the table.

I take my chopsticks and grab a piece of yellowtail and dip it into the soy sauce.

“So, Brandon?” I say, looking over at Kaylor, “What happened?”

“Hold on, I need to order a drink first,” she says. She raises her hand to get the waiter’s attention. “Can I get a Heineken and a lime, if you have it?”

“I want a Mai Tai.” “And, a vodka and water,” A’Lauryn and I say before the waiter can speak.

8:23
Ok, Granny. I’m out with friends, but
definitely let me know if you need me.

“I.Ds,” the waiter ask, hand out as we dig through out purses for wallets.

“So, basically, when I went home to Nashville, last weekend Brandon shows up on my mother’s front door step, high as a fucking kite on some molly trying to talk to me. We broke up like six months ago and ultimately, he end up busting the front window out of my mother’s boyfriend car when he tried to get him to leave. Anyways, the police showed up and he started crying a shit before the police could even ask us what happened. Then…”

8:36
Text from Dora Hunter
K.

“Sorry it’s my grandma again,” I let them know, rubbing the grease from my full face of make-up off my phone.

“So, what are you going to do about Brandon? Did you step-dad press charges?”

“Naw,” Kaylor says, “I told him not too.”

“Why, I would have had his ass arrested so fast. He disrespecting your mama’s house, that shows his lack of respect for you,” I tell her. “Don’t you think so A’Lauyren? That shit is mad disrespectful.”

8:38
Text from Latonia-Harris Stewart
Ma?

20 minutes later, the chef comes to the grill, steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops and veggies on the cart in front of him.

“Ok, people how do you want these steaks cooked?” he asks.

“Can I get that rare, please?”

“Rare?”

“Yes.”

“Ok,” He picks up a piece of raw meat from his cart and moves it towards my plate. “Here you go. It’s still mooing for you.”

8:52
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Do you need me to come over there
with you, ma? Is someone with you?

Laughing, I say, “Toss it on that grill for about a minute and I’ll take it.”

He replaces the steak and begins to spread some oil over the grill.

“Ready? Watch your eyebrows people,” he says.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me?

“Ok. People, I have sauces. Mustard Sauce?”

I shake my head, “No, thank you.”

“Hot Sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Ma?

“No thanks.”

“Ginger sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me? Alright?
I’m serious.

Looking at him, A’Lauryn and my head shift side to side, as Kaylor says, “Please.”

“Ok, Folks. I have that white sauce for you.”

We all nod our head yes. “Please,” I say. “Can I get both trays of white sauce?”

I hear another PING.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Dora Hunter? Are you ignoring me?

Damn, Grandma, respond already.

I pick up my glass and take a sip.

Well at least Mama is trying tot take care of her.

The waiter then serves the fried rice and veggies. “Ok. So you wanted that rare, right?

I nod my head, before I dip my mushroom into the white shrimp and mayonnaise sauce.

“Hmmmm… Yummy,” I shift in my sit doing my happy food dance; lips puckered, shoulders rocking up one side at a time. I take my chopsticks and grab another piece, mouth open wide.

Thank goodness, Mama has her. I hate for my grandma to be sad, but I need tonight to happen. 

 9:17
Ma, HAVE YOU SPOKE TO GRANNY?
She hasn’t replied to me.
She hasn’t said anything.

I hit send, then moan as I take my first bite into that rare steak covered in that white shrimp sauce; my happy dance continues.

Then, ten minutes later, I hear a PING.

9:25
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Yes. I am sitting over here with her now.

9:31
Multi-Media Message from Dora Hunter
“Goodbye, my friend. Dyson. I love you. Goodbye.”

I gag on a bite of steak as I realize what I am looking at. Oh My Shit, Grandma. I am looking at the photo she sent with her voice recording.

I see a picture of Dyson lying there. Head resting on a white towel, eyes blank and devoid of that teasing joy that he gets when he sees my granny’s face. White fur blending into the sandy brown coat. I can’t believe he is gone, but…but… wait! Why in the world am I looking at a picture of a dead dog?

“Hold on y’all. Remember about my granny’s dog? Look,” I say as I turn the phone around so they can see the picture and hear my grandmother’s words.

“Shit, Nesh. She is sounds so sad,” Kaylor says.

“Really? So looking at that ain’t weird at all for you?”

“No, her dog died. She’s upset. Its understandable,” Kaylor tells me.

“Fuck that, that was gross. I definitely need another drink. I can’t deal,” I murmur, as I look behind me to catch the waiter’s attention. “Can I please get another Mai Tai, extra rum?”

“DeNeisha, what’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you like this,” A’Lauryn ask.

“I have two papers due in three days and I haven’t started with either. Then those sick kids and their ‘I don’t see their sickness’ parents. It’s exhausting. So, all I want to do is get drunk and forget about all of that for a couple of hours, “ I say, “ And plus, I didn’t even like the dog that much anyways. He was always knocking the trash over to dig through it and scratching up the carpet when I closed him out of my room and guess who get in trouble for the carpet being fuck up? My ass. He was just annoying and needy and I wasn’t here for that, but my grandma loves him. He kept her company when granddaddy is gone over night driving for Old Dominion, so I can see why she is sad, just maybe not tonight, ok?” I pick up my drink, place the straw between my lips and sip until it’s gone.

“DeNeisha, you are so rude,” A’Lauryn sighs, “Be nice sometimes.”

“You should you know. Be nice, I mean.  But come on let’s hop to.. I got a bottle of vodka and Crown Royal in the freezer. We can find ourselves in those,” Kaylor says, “ I have to tell yall what else happened that weekend after Brandon left.”

Two o’clock, the next afternoon, I roll over to rub the crust out of my eyes, and I can taste the sour remnants of puke as I yawn and feel the familiar pulse of nausea in my belly. I grab my phone and notice twelve new text and my eyes focus in on the last one.

June 11th 10:28 p.m.
Text from Dora Hunter
We are going to bury Dyson in
the backyard at 12. We are suppose
to say a few words so, I hope you can be there.

Jeez, why is she so dramatic? Ok, DeNeisha. Apparently, you are being rude. Let’s stop! Hold on! Think… Take a breath! DeNeisha, we are going to play nice. Let’s call granny and see if she is ok.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Love. Sorry for calling so late. You alright?” I ask her, voice rusty from rounds of drunken karaoke.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry about Dyson,” I say as I yawn once more and wince from the smell, “I hate for you to be sad.”

DeNeisha is a senior the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying Language & Literature alongside Creative Writing. Growing up, she found herself exploring the fictional worlds of J.K Rowling and Nora Roberts as a way of escaping into a world that was more liberating than her own. While adulting, DeNeisha immerses herself in the hysteria of toddlerhood as a childcare teacher. When adulting is over, DeNeisha likes to devote herself to a delicious meal and the occasional adult beverage. This is her first publication.

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beauty, Guest Posts, Vulnerability, Women

Together We Run

March 7, 2016

By Liz Fischer Greenhill

I am cut from the fabric of my grandmother, wild and crazy, spirited and dangerous. Unpredictable women we are, the kinds of women they send to sanitariums. Women who fall apart. Women who must take pills to be good mothers, who must fold our pretty legs under our skirts rather than slip them into leotards for dancing. Women like my grandmother and me, we love to dance.

I grew up hearing the story of how my grandmother left my young mother in a burning car and ran away for help. I grew up hearing that she was irresponsible, didn’t cook, was never around, not a mother. How she would fill herself on samples from the grocery store but never buy anything, her long lacquered nails plucking morsel after morsel. She answered the front door wearing only her stockings and brassiere.

I thought she was glamorous.

I’d seen other grandmothers like mine. With puffed up curls, coffee-colored eyebrows more paint than hair, grey roots shining from under their hairlines like a fallen hem. Beautiful women, grown larger with years, having lost their waistlines. That’s what she said, that she’d lost her waistline. Don’t let it happen to you, she warned, before I ever had a waistline.

I remember childhood crying fits at night in bed. My mother coming in, how she perched on the edge of my bed, her hand rubbing nervous circles on my back. My body shaking in heaves I couldn’t stop. Worry in her voice, sometimes we just need to cry for no reason.

 I think I had reasons. A fire burned inside me, hot coals in a clench of skin and muscle. It was nothing I could figure out how to say.

Gwendolyn.

My grandmother.

In my dream we are schoolgirls together, laughing in the courtyard, smoking cigarettes in the woods, skinny-dipping in the river. We roll our skirts up and our stockings down. We trim each other’s hair to pageboys, smack bright red lips to each other checking for an even kiss mark. We lie in the dirt and dry grass under a hot southern sky and sleep, straw hats on our faces, legs overlapping.

My grandmother was, as her children say, so aloof and excitable, so wacky and unreliable, perhaps she was unable to be a friend. I don’t want to think of her that way. I want to think of us together as teenagers. Growing to be young women together, confiding in each other our doubts and sorrows and wild panic, and helping each other not abandon our children. I want us to be friends who wet-nurse each other’s babies so that some days each of us can go wander a river, or stumble home from a party, or howl privately to the sky. We could have allowed each other to feel childless for long hours of the day, to feel pretty again and youthful, to remember desire.

I would have been at the births of my uncles, my mother, my aunt, I would have held her hand and looked deep into the scattered brown of her darkening eyes and said, Yes, you can leave. Yes, you can go when the baby comes, I’ll take care of it for you, you can go. And because I said it, because I gave her the open door, she would have stayed.

And when my child was young and I awoke in the cold horror of a nightmare—a stampede of animals turned my son to dust while I applied lipstick in a mirrorshe would have been there to pet my hair and dry my cheeks with the sides of her hands and laugh, Girl, you know you wish it and at the same time you don’t. It’s alright, we all do. You love him to death, that’s all it means.

If I’d had her there to say it again when I was often so worried I might leave the baby on the counter of the fabric store and step out into the city, carefree and light, strolling the streets, peering in windows and wondering at the world, the baby more forgotten than a button that popped off my coat. She would have brushed my fears away, easy as lint.

Alone in my bedroom, a small girl, shuffling a halo into the green carpet, my hands clamped over my ears, my eyes pressed shut. A frenzied panic in my chest. It started soft like a dozen or more radio stations clicking on, a low murmur. A jumble of sounds and overlapping voices getting louder, reporters relaying news of bombs and wars and death tolls, numbers rising. I couldn’t make it stop. Just had to wait it out, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty. Shut out the light and as much of the sounds as I could, clenched. Around and around the room.

Who could I tell? My mother couldn’t understand. Already, her frequent looks of concern slanting through me. The nerves reigned in her grip. All the yelling and slammed doors. Rug burn on my shins from scrambling up the carpeted stairs too fast, just to be alone in my room.

In picture albums, my mother is a brunette Shirley Temple with scabby knees and a gleaming toothpaste smile. Then, an adolescent as lovely as a swan, thin-necked, sweetly smiling, her tiny poodle skirt like an over-turned martini glass. In high school she is pretty in that perfect girl-next-door kind of way, short in stature, feminine, a brown bouffant, just a touch of eyeliner, lip gloss, a good girl. We would’ve run in different crowds if we were classmates. She, in sync with the cheerleaders, in uniform, belonging; me with the artists, in our tattered vintage clothes and unkempt hair, dreaming of a way out.

As a teenager I did not look in the mirror. I only did it if I had a purpose, but never for the sake of admiration. I was told I was pretty like my grandmother, but I did not allow the compliment to stand. I knocked it down and never looked long enough to form my own opinion—afraid it wasn’t true. Afraid it was.

I’ve seen pictures of my grandmother in a sequin leotard, in a line of women, elbows locked like paper dolls, dark-lips, arched smiles, one leg bent, one leg lifted, all in sync. My legs are shaped like hers.

If my grandmother and I had been young together we would have been like sisters—best friends, accomplices to each other’s silly crimes. We would have grown up together and then stayed together, moving to the same block, a strip of fence between our houses. We’d have made our husbands tear the fence down so there was nothing between us. We would have smoked cigarettes over black coffee and a fallen cherry pie and bitched about the neighbors’ triumphant cakes and their children’s spotless rompers, the women we knew unlike us—we, who prefer to read Sylvia Plath or jam a fistful of wildflowers into an old bottle, rather than slip rubber gloves into a sink of bubbles or mop the floor. We don’t bleach anything clean. We don’t iron any man’s pants. Our bathrooms are draped with our stockings just rinsed. We let our children run wild and cook one monstrous dinner for all of us to last as long as it can, so that in the evenings we can slouch in an armchair with a book in hand, or lay on the rug, legs swaying to a record spinning on the stereo. All summer we eat wild strawberries, licking the red stains from our fingerprints, and shoo away mosquitos from our bare legs. Winter evenings we bundle into matching scarves and walk hand-in-hand well past the first stamp of the moon, until we are surrounded by nothing but blackness and the smallest pricks of light that remind us somehow that we are not lost.

And when we lose ourselves, we help each other stay safe. We take each other’s children and mother them as best we can until the other is well enough to come stand in the house again.

And when she surfaces, we bend a fence around the other, to protect the fragile cracks while healing. Keep the men out, the children away, bring each other carefully back out to the starlight.

My grandmother, my love, I’m talking to you.

I came to you when my son was just a baby, do you remember? We saw you in the hospital and I bounced him on your bed and I told you all about him. I showed you each of his dimples and patted his fat hand to yours. I told you of his first words and his squinty smiles and the way his hand grasped for me in his sleep.

We came all that way to say goodbye, did you know?

In your apartment we found your jewelry, all the bracelets I mailed you from New York City street vendors, plastic turquoise and mother-of-pearl.  We gave away your aqua spiked heels, the ones you wore all the time with over-sized sweaters and  leggings, showing off your shapely legs. I wish I had them now.  I would have liked to have borrowed them, now that I’m a woman.

My grandmother, you have not known me as a woman. True, I was a mother when you died, but I was girlish, I was fighting forward with my eyes closed, I had not yet seen my own body in the mirror, had not stepped into the caste of my widened skin. The woman I would become hung around me like a ghost then.

I was using the word mother for myself, tentatively, and I would not call myself woman. A girl. What is in a girl that is lost in a woman?

Seated at her vanity, my mother, tucked in a towel, leaning close-in to the mirror, blow-drying her hair, spritzing hairspray, brushing her face with powder, lining her lips a sharp pink and coloring them in, dabbing at the quilted pillow of eye-shadow, a swipe of rouge, not too much, a touch of Shalimar to the wrist. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, services, dinners, funerals, over and over, layer upon layer. The same ritual since her dates and proms and cheerleading games and sorority parties. Through the crack in the door I watched her make herself into someone I did not want to be.

What does it take to be a woman?

What does it take from you?

My grandmother and I are the kinds of women who retain a certain girlishness as we age, coy and flirty, we thrive on admiration, we stumble through our schedules, cannot maintain routines.  Always changing, we are like kaleidoscopic colors.

Did she see it in me, I wonder, that same patterning, that wild impulse that leapt a generation and settled into me, linking us in a slip stitch. Granddaughter. Grandmother.

When you were my age now, grandmother, you were just out of the hospital and fragile still. Your long fingers pulled stems from tall black buckets at your job at the flower shop. I can see your eyes squint, lips frown, while you arrange a bouquet in a vase. Your painted nails pinch off the rose thorns. A ruffle of petals. The plucking of leaves. This one for a funeral. This one for a thank you gift. This one for a girl in the hospital.

What song plays in your mind while you hum? Do you think about the doctors, the white bed, the pills and machines? Do you remember how you were lost to your children?

I don’t want to follow you there.

This is a story that changes in my hands.

In the house, when my son comes to me, I wrap my arms around him. His head smells like wet sand and eiderdown. His fingers tap upon the stacked bones of my neck. That is the only sound in the room. His hands are beautiful. His feet are free. When our embrace is over I’ll cook him breakfast and we’ll walk to the market, the bookstore, and then we’ll come home.

Grandmother, I remember the smell of you, rose water and powder, the perfume that drifted onto my shoulders. The black curly mess of your hair. Liquid brown eyes. Dark. Rimmed in black pencil. The southern twang that whistled through your orange smeared lips. Your hands, browned by the sun, thick-knuckled like mine. Too many gestures. Fingers quick as birds. A jumbled of creases in the palm. We called you Nana.

You live in me now more than before.

Nana. In my dreams you are whole.

I see us as girls together, scrappy and mischievous in dirt-covered dresses. Playing toy soldiers and tin flutes in the dusty yard. Southern girls, girls who know to look down in public and look up in private, we were those girls.

Turn your back to me so that I can button your dress, slip the slim pearly shells into the tight little mouths that dot a line along your spine. Let me help you put yourself together, gather yourself. Turn around, let’s see your lips, give them one nice press and there you are.

Grandmother, my love.

Give me your hand.

Let us go back to the car—that car that burns eternal behind my mother’s round eyes—there is smoke, the heat is pulsing off the asphalt, the door handle is right there gleaming. Open it. Get the child. Get her out. Take her hand and I have your hand and together we run.

 

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Liz Fischer Greenhill is a visual artist, a poet, and a nonfiction writer. She is also an acupuncturist who practices hands-on healthcare in Portland, Oregon.

Liz’s work has been published in The Rumpus, Gertrude Press, Nailed Magazine, The Collagist, Perceptions, Four and Twenty, Oregon East, The Dream Closet, and the poetry anthology Step Lightly. Her work is forthcoming in The Untold Gaze, a book of writing paired with the paintings of Stephen O’Donnell. Her 16 mm animated short, “The Loveseat,” showed in LGBTQ film festivals across the US and in Canada.  Currently an MFA candidate at Eastern Oregon University in Creative Nonfiction with Lidia Yuknavitch, Liz is working on her first book.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

 

Family, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Women, writing

The Summer Mink

November 16, 2015

By Jennifer Rieger

While most of my school friends spent their summers attending various camps and enrichment programs, I spent my vacation in the little mountain town of Cresson, Pennsylvania. God’s little acre, my grandmother called it, but to me, it was a town of freedom and ease. This comforted me as a child; I liked being in a place where people stopped me in the market to tell me how much I resembled my Aunt Diana, or told funny stories of my parents growing up. In Suburbia, USA, I was a nobody.

My father was a Postal Inspector, and the nature of his career took us all over the country—Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, Philadelphia—but Cresson was always the constant. The town is approximately seventy-five miles east of Pittsburgh, and if you blink driving through, you’re sure to miss it. It’s known for its scenic landscape and crystal spring water, as well as its creamy custard and front porch gossip. Years prior to my own existence, wealthy railroaders and even Andrew Carnegie would vacation in the decadent Queen Anne-style Mountain House mansions to escape the sweltering city summers. Those years are long gone, and the thriving little mountain town of railroaders and coalminers has become a bit depleted, and many struggle to get by.

While both sets of my grandparents lived in Cresson, it was an unspoken understanding that my sister and I would spend our summers with my mother’s parents. I didn’t question decisions like these—I knew better. There was an interesting complexity to my grandmother that the observant conversationalist could discern in a matter of minutes. She loved fresh-squeezed orange juice, clothing made with quality fabrics, porcelain dolls, and her granddaughters. As for the town itself, she possessed a love-hate relationship. An army bride at sixteen, my grandfather whisked her away from Texas and brought her to Cresson, to his family, his life. She willingly followed and gave him a daughter, but never let him forget the sacrifice she made leaving her family behind, even if they were desperately destitute.

I suppose that’s why she needed the mink coat.

Minnie Hudson had a mink, and wore it when there was even the slightest chill in the air—yes, even in the summer.  Each Sunday in church, Grandma would stare down that mink like a gentle, skilled hunter stalking prey. She never bad-mouthed Minnie for wearing it, never openly judged her for possessing such an obvious extravagance in a blue-collar town. I watched her, the all-consuming envy gleaming in her sparkling green eyes. At the end of each service, Grandma would make her way to Minnie, feigning a casual conversation. If Minnie noticed the number of times Grandma’s pained, arthritic hands reached out to nonchalantly caress the coat, she never let on. I noticed though. The way her hand would linger a little longer, the way she would sigh when they parted, the way she would look at the sky as we walked home—I noticed everything. And I wished I could buy her that coat. Her crooked hand grabbed my little one. Let’s go into Altoona and get your ears pierced baby doll, what do you say? I know your mother said no, but tiny diamonds will look so pretty. I nodded, smiled, and kicked the rocks of the gravel alley all the way home. Grandma kicked some too. Continue Reading…

Christmas, Family, Guest Posts

Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

December 25, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Melodye Shore.

 

I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
–Walt Whitman
It was when our mutual friend Katrina Kenison introduced me to Amy VanEchaute’s blog, My Path With Stars Bestrewn, that the seeds of a friendship were planted. In a later entry, “While My Pretty One Sleeps,” Amy wrote a gorgeous tribute to her beloved Momma, who seemed to me the stuff of fairy tales. At once magical and ephemeral, Amy’s Momma reminded me of my sweet Nana—not mirror images, mind you, but similar in all the places where light exists and love makes itself manifest in the world.

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Amy’s Momma with Maymer, 1973

My Nana, early 1970s

My Nana, early 1970s

Though we are separated by distance—1,900 miles, more or less—my subsequent conversations with Amy brought us closer. Over time, I came to realize just how much we have in common. Our personalities are uniquely our own, but we approach the world with a shared sense of wide-eyed wonderment, are attuned to music about Mother Earth and her creations, and words that whisper to us the wisdom of Transcendentalists, matriarchs, and the Eternal All-knowing.

A few weeks ago, when Amy posted a picture of the Victorian-style wreath she’d created as a Christmastime homage to her mother, I wished aloud for a memorial spot where I could visit Nana. Amy expressed similar regrets about her own grandmother. As fate would have it, “Maymer” is buried in a cemetery less than nine (count ’em, 9!) miles from my house.

Right then I realized that we’d ventured into that serendipitous space where wishes are sometimes granted, the realm of possibility where you don’t dare blink, lest you miss all the fun and magic. “I’ll make her a wreath,” I heard myself say, “I’ll find Maymer’s grave and lay it there for you.”

Get this: I’d never made a wreath for a loved one before, much less a total stranger! So what? My inner voice asked. I answered the challenge by grabbing my car keys and heading to Michaels. Not for me, something purely decorative…I’d pull together thematic elements! The circular shape would speak of unity—the joining of hands across the miles, a warm embrace in absentia. And the sturdy evergreens would represent our grandmothers’ character: strong women who endured hard times without complaint, who embroidered the fanciful into the everyday, and who sowed seeds of grace in every word and deed.

 Behold! My first-ever homemade bow! See the tiny angel? She represents Maymer and Nana, spiritual giants of short stature. In the curve adjacent to the gilt-edged bow, I placed creamy white roses, as fair as our grandmothers’ porcelain complexions.


Behold! My first-ever homemade bow! See the tiny angel? She represents Maymer and Nana, spiritual giants of short stature. In the curve adjacent to the gilt-edged bow, I placed creamy white roses, as fair as our grandmothers’ porcelain complexions.

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Here and there, I scattered various gifts of earth and sky, to help illustrate the underlying meaning of this circle: Hope, that thing with feathers; pinecones that represent growth and renewal; a sprig of cedar that symbolizes strength and healing; holly that speaks of loving sacrifice; and twining ivy, to depict the precious memories that cling to the very fabric of our being.

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On these scrolls are written the songs of our heart: “Deep Peace” for Maymer, and “His Eye is on The Sparrow” for Nana. I tied them together with a tussie-mussie of forget-me-nots, tiny blue flowers that grew prolific in Maymer’s garden and inspired Amy’s momma to write this gorgeous haiku:

Like my mother’s eyes
Twinkling from the garden path
Blue forget-me-nots.
©Marjorie Neighbour, 1982

 I then clipped two candles on the upper right corner, humming as I placed them among the greenery: These little lights of ours, I’m gonna let ‘em shine… Sprigs of mistletoe are scattered at the base of the candles, for who deserves bunches of kisses more than a beloved grandmother?

I then clipped two candles on the upper right corner, humming as I placed them among the greenery: These little lights of ours, I’m gonna let ‘em shine… Sprigs of mistletoe are scattered at the base of the candles, for who deserves bunches of kisses more than a beloved grandmother?

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A chubby bird hovers mid-air, a shimmery gold confection that catches the sunlight with its feathers. Into its bosom, I tucked a pale pink rose from my backyard garden—a secret treasure of the sort that I suspect Nana and Maymer loved best. Over time the petals will fade and crumble, but as with our most cherished memories, their essence will remain.

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Here’s how my finished wreath looked, lovingly placed as it was near the cedar tree where Maymer rests.

136042_600I discovered nearby yet another wreath, created with bougainvillea flowers by Mother Nature herself! It’s a very unusual arrangement, which makes me wonder if I was meant to stumble upon it in my walk across the grounds. And just beyond the reach of my camera, a songbird flew from tree to tree, chirping when it landed but never lighting long enough for me to get a clear glimpse of it. Felt more than seen, it was identifiable only through the sweetness of its song. “Like the soul,” Amy suggests to me later.

Sunset at the cemetery.

Sunset at the cemetery.

This wreath is truly a gift of the heart and of this season. It honors the circle of life, a miracle with no beginning or end, and brings tidings of comfort and joy to both the giver and recipient. In the same way that the Winter Solstice turns back the dark by lengthening the days, this gift has swaddled us in warmth and light—new friends who feel as if we’ve known each other forever, pulled by our grandmothers into a wordless embrace that is nothing less than divine.

About Melodye Shore: I am an established writer and researcher whose work appears in a wide variety of published articles, newsletters, and educational materials. My personal essay, “Luz” is included in the Young Adult anthology, DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperTeen, 2011), and I’m a co-contributor to THE GIRL GUIDE: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-up World (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2013). An experienced public speaker, I’ve been quoted on a variety of topics in Time Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and other publications.

My current book project, CAN I GET A WITNESS? Memoir of a Tent Evangelist’s Daughter, chronicles an itinerant childhood during which my family crisscrossed the country in a cramped sedan, setting up revival meetings wherever we landed.

While I still enjoy traveling, I feel most at home in Southern California, where I live with my husband. In addition to writing, my interests include art journaling, photography, gardening, and plotting new adventures. Connect with me here.

Featured image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to  be a human being.

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to be a human being.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

click to order Simplereminders new book.

click to order Simplereminders new book.