I went home yesterday with the intention of going to the doctor and stopping by my grandmother’s house for a quick visit before heading back to school. I had just visited for an hour on Wednesday when I was in the area, and I have a lot to do before Sunday, when my entire day will be eaten up by a dance marathon. So I dropped in, knowing she was expecting me. She started talking about how not much new has happened in her life since I had seen her two days before. She even repeated a story or two that I had just heard, but I smiled and let her continue. Then I remembered something my dad had told me about her father at a family dinner recently. So I asked her about him. Because I realized I don’t really know anything about my older relatives or my ancestry. The answer to my question spiraled into story after story about her father, a man of mystery. Wild Charlie, the small-town Georgian who spoke German. I learned so much. I found out how my grandparents met. I found out how my great-grandparents met. I finally traced my great-great grandparents back to Ireland.
She told me stuff I never knew, like how she has half siblings because her father’s first wife died in childbirth. And how my great grandparents moved back to Lumber City when they married, and how the oldest of my great aunts and uncles were born in that small town in Georgia before my great grandmother put her foot down 5 years later and said she was going back to Philadelphia with or without him, and he decided to follow. She told me stories about living in Ohio during the depression. How her tough mother used to shoo her kids away when she was sitting on a stump in their backyard; she didn’t want them to see her when she was praying to keep her sanity and crying about the fact that her kids had to do without.
We talked about the house we were having the conversation in. 1959-2016. That’s a lot of history. That house itself holds so many stories. How her mother used to throw water out the window because she was too lazy to take it one room over to the bathroom. How it once hit her father on the head when he was taking out the trash. How the doorway from the kitchen to the rec room didn’t used to be there. How much her kids hated the addition because they didn’t have time to avoid getting caught when they were fighting. How so many members of our family had lived in the house. Her parents, her husband, her brother(s), her nephew, her kids, almost all of her grandchildren at one point or another.
Listening to her speak was magical. It was amazing to see her eyes get a little glazed as she traveled back in time remembering details from another lifetime. It was already much later than I had planned on staying, but something about the way she always seems so small and lonely when you’re about to leave made me ask her if she was interested in heading to the diner for dinner. Two plates full of eggs and white toast later, I really did have to head back to campus. I regrettably drove away while she settled down to watch Jeopardy.
I have to thank the woman for giving me asthma. It means that I get to come home and talk to her. It’s the least I can do for the angel who takes care of everyone and never asks for anything in return.