Family Archaeology: Grandma Vera

Grandma Vera fixed the roof herself and served lettuce in wedges. The metal gate to her back door was spring loaded. I climbed that gate as a girl and pretended it was a bucking horse. “Good land, that makes a racket,” she hollered at me as she planted iris. But she let me play.

Grandma Vera bought used polyester pants at yard sales. She grew up poor and unloved in a small Wyoming town. She was not a woman who said I love you. Instead she worked and skimped to give her four sons and their families a better life than she imagined possible for herself.

Her home consisted of three small rooms and a bathroom in the back of a gas station. Furnished entirely from bargains at yard sales. She put all of her boys through college and helped some grandchildren along the way as well.

Grandma hoarded junk–old shoes, paperbacks, table settings, broken lamps–she’d resell for nickels, dimes, dollars. She didn’t buy anything new for herself and she wasn’t attached to things. Except her first fancy purse. An outrageous luxury purchase made back when she taught in a one-room schoolhouse out on a lonely prairie. A finely crafted mesh metal purse. Delicate looking but strong. Enduring. With a rainbow of colors in the light like fish scales, only prettier.

Vera took the purse out once to a fancy dress dance party. Before she settled for a loveless marriage. Before she put the purse away in a drawer.

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Two Packs

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My dad surprised us with Sno Balls, chocolate cakes filled with a marshmallow goo and covered with pink dyed coconut flakes. He brought them home from the 7-Eleven. He came home with two 2-packs for our family to share. My mom, my dad, my brother, and myself. I didn’t really like them–so sweet they were too sweet–but I joined in because they were his favorite treat and it made him happy to share them with us. I wanted to like them for him and would try to eat them in three sloppy bites, same as he could do.

Family change is a strange thing. Whether the change happens from separation or divorce or the tragedy of death. Or the act of slipping apart and away from each other over time. We went from an even numbered family to an odd. Dinner meant four place settings at the table. Then it didn’t, even though I sometimes forgot at first and put a fourth plate on the table–an extra plate I’d awkwardly try to remove before it made my mom cry.

One lonely time I brought Sno Balls home from the convenience store. Some attempt to taste normal again. But then there was the outcast leftover Sno Ball in the torn wrapper that made us feel more pointedly the absence of being left behind.

And then eventually with hard change comes renewal and happy and better. All good. But always the quick shot of lonesome pangs whenever I pay for my gas at the station and pass by forsaken 2-packs.