Friday, July 9, 2010


I've been wanting to write something based on my maternal grandmother’s life for many years. When I was a child, Nanna was the one I wanted to be like when I grew up. I’ve asked everyone who remembers something of her, to tell me as well. I continue to ask my mother. I’ve tapped my aunt before she passed away, five days after my father died. They were in the same hospital. On a day when he felt better, we wheeled him into her room to give her company. There will also be other things that other people will remember differently. And they can write their own version someday. But meanwhile, there are some of my own memories.
This summer I went on a grant from Aspen Writers Foundation (now affiliated with the Aspen Institute) to Aspen. The idea was to work out a structure for this new venture of mine, so that when I am ready to write it, that work will be already started. I studied with Bill Loizeaux and a group of other wonderful aspiring memoirists (more on that another time) in the pristine environs of Aspen Meadows.

July 8, 2010
reach toward a bowl of peaches that are going soft and wrinkly in the refrigerator. Because I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, it occurs to me: the peach in my hand, has the exact texture of Nanna’s skin – soft, fuzzy, but still dense inside. I reach for a knife and begin to scoop the brown spots out of one. The knife is not the sharpest in the drawer, I find. But rather than find another, I continue, using pressure, rather than precision. There is still life inside this peach and I’m determined to save it. I cut it into half and carve out the brown. Then pry out the seed wedged within. More soft spots.
As I age too, the hands I admired in Nanna, are now my hands. Granted, the bones in my hand are finer. My hands, smaller, the wrists like a child’s I think sometimes. I get that from my paternal grandmother, perhaps. But the structure is similar. I have fewer veins that pump out of the skin. My mother has the veins too. Like Nanna, hers were blue. The skin, like oiled parchment. Mine are green under a tawnier skin. I wanted those veins, I was envious of those veins. For me, they were a hallmark mark of their combined beauty. It was lineage I was looking for. An intricate highway into those restless tips that keep their tune to that music in Nanna’s head. But it’s the bones that I see in my own hands. The structure. The bones that, in her old age, began to spread, pushed outwards from the joints that had become thicker, knottier, more stubborn.
I carve out the soft spots from the peach in my hand. They hide like a secret around the seed, still holding it to themselves. When I cut it all out, I have thin slices. I taste one. On account of being refrigerated, the peach is still a little sour. The sugars have been arrested in their development. And the meat, I find now, is too soft for the trouble I took. I eat it anyway. And then it hits me. For years I watched my grandmother do this. And still, I had forgotten – until now.
She would take bananas from a covered plate. Instead of picking the best of the bunch, she always took the one that was closest to being thrown away. Although I must say, there was little she ever threw away. Disturbed, tiny fruit flies would sigh outwards. She would wave them away. As if it made a difference. She would peal the soft brown skin as it limply fell away. Taking a breakfast knife from a small tray on the table, she too used more pressure than precision, like I did today, to carve out little concavities around the creamy fruit until it was notched like a totem pole, then cut it into chunks.
Just for the record. There are those who like their bananas on the raw side; without blemish, and very firm. With only a hint of the flavor to come. And then there are those that will not eat it until it has a generous sprinkling of brown spots and the sweetness is unbearable. By now you’ve guessed. My grandmother came from the latter category. I, the first.
I slip the pieces of the peach into my mouth. There is barely any substance. They go quickly. Peaches are the same, I like them firm and juicy, running down the sides of my inherited knuckles. I really should had taken one of the good ones and thrown away the one I ate. But I am too much my grandmother’s grand daughter. I finish the last slice and trash the brown remains. There are two nice ripe ones for anyone else who might come by.

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