Wednesday, March 02, 2011

roots and folds

Thursdays you'll find me spending the afternoon with my grandmother, my mother's mother. We talk about her mother's mother, and I ask to hear the stories I've heard a million times. But this time I'm writing them down.

I like to hear about what Irene was like as a young woman, as I only knew her as my Babci, an eighty-something great-grandmother, who smacked her gum and cooked a mean galumpki. I like to hear, too, about Pelagia, she of the embroidered apron and yellow coverlet. And of Pelagia's husband, Roman, who sported a mustache that spanned the entire width of his face.

I like hearing stories of my grandfather, too, although those feel different. He is gone, like Pelagia and Roman and the other ancestors whose unfamiliar faces look out from yellowing photographs. But I didn't know them, and I knew him. My heart breaks when I consider that my grandmother lost the love of her life, and so the stories -- even the happy ones -- are always already tinged with sadness. But I like talking about Grampy despite the ache in my heart because I know it makes my grandmother happy.

We laugh as we remember his bone-dry wit. She tells me how, when he asked her if he could have another dance that first night they'd met, that she'd asked, "Why, are you trying to get out of it?" I tell her that I'll never forget returning home after a weekend away to find that the bottom portion of my bookcase had been transformed -- clearly by magic -- into a boudoir for my dolls. The left compartment had become a closet for their hanging clothes, hung up with tiny pink metal hangers; the right side held three wooden drawers with ample room for their bloomers and pajamas. I remember my delight, and I remember my mother telling me, "That's how you know how much he loves you."

This is my favorite photograph of my grandfather.

My grandmother kept it folded in her pocket while he was away in the Navy.

I like that those folds are a tactile reminder of how much my grandmother loved my grandfather. And I like that my descendants, a hundred years from now, will see those folds and know, if nothing else, that she kept him close to her heart.


  1. This is a beautiful post. I love talking to my grandparents about their stories too - which is probably one of the reasons I am so drawn to history. Your grandpa was a looker :)

  2. it seems to me that in listening, and in writing it down, you're putting a little of yourself back together. i love that.

  3. Oh, this is gorgeous. It makes me happy and sad. Memory is so filled with loss. My grandma lost her husband when my mom was seven. Grandma and Grandpa had been married for 10 years, and Grandma never dated or remarried. She still tears up when she talks about him. We come from amazing women!