Who writes personal letters these days? As mentioned before, my husband loves mail. I understand the excitement of a personal letter. Yes, emails are all beautiful and meaningful, but the letter. The letter is a dying art form. My chicken scratch is hardly up to the task of a long letter, but I am able to make it a page or two. I send little tidbits to my grandmother to enjoy. I buy stationary so I can not only send her words but a lovely picture. Van Gogh, flowers, mountain views adorn the front of my cards. I like to think of her receiving the mail and among all the bills, campaign letters, and advertisements, my little letter is snuggled there, waiting for discovery. She will sit in her chair by the window. The same chair she sits in to read the paper and that she has waved a cheery hello a thousands time before. She will sit by that window and probably with a magnifying glass, a lot of patients and creative spelling interpretations read my letter. I stopped asking her how she was because it became a difficult question for her to answer. How do you tell your granddaughter you are scared of death, you are lonely, tired, sick, hurting? I know all that and don’t need to hear it in a letter to remind of the life she leads. So I tell her about me. I tell her about Jakub and my adventures. About school when I was in school, about looking for a job when I was unemployed, about finding a balance between self and marriage. I sometimes make cards for her out of colored paper. Always bright, always with sun and flowers or beaches. Just a few of her favorite things.
My grandmother still has jet black hair. Not dyed hair, or permed hair, but her natural cut and color. Her hair is cropped short and has been my whole memory. Almost boyish in her style of hair style. She always was perplexed by my long tresses. When I stayed the night I would just use a hairband or go the whole weekend with it loose. It pain her to have me sequel while she brushed it so it never really got brushed. She would sometimes worry about what my mother would say, but it was never a big concern for any of us.
My grandmother was an unusual grandmother. Her hands a little gnarled with arthritis and her feet have always been a bit too wide- a trait I inherited from her. She is kind, quick witted, gentle, proper, yet relaxed. She doesn’t cook, doesn’t particularly like house work, and is calm. Yes, she is very calm. She is not given to extravagant or feminine tastes. I like that about her. She has worn the same sweater, jacket, shoes, broach for years. She belongs to a different era. When she would sing she would sing in a deep alto voice. She would quote poetry from memory. Her voice is low and strong. She would drink a glass of box wine in the afternoon. And she liked her coffee black and piping hot. To this day whenever I see a steaming cup of black coffee I think of her. I wish I could drink coffee like that, just to be like her.
My grandmother would play school with me. I loved being the teacher. I would teacher her the alphabet and use her encyclopedia as work books. She had a black board I would set up in the living room and give her a pad to practice her letters on. Occasionally I would have to whisper to her that she needed to make a mistake so I could teach her to do it right. Occasionally she would have to correct the teacher. She would sit on a chair, and I would line up some stuffed animals to round out the classroom and I would begin the instruction. I usually would “dress” for the occasion. Dress up was another favorite game of mine. Grandma had a box of old clothes, threadbare bed sheets, and dish towels with holes in them. I would raid that box and come up with fantastic creations to parade around the house in and be “teacher” in.
My grandma also like the outdoors. We would sit on her porch and read, or in my case draw or color. She would read to me a book from her childhood about Greek Mythology. I have that book and as I look at the pictures and read the words I hear her voice in my head. I feel her arm against my cheek as I look over her shoulder. She likes to garden. I remember the marigolds. The rotadendrum bush by the driveway. And the daises. That is her favorite flower. There were always flowers around, on the table, in the flower beds under the window. Not ostentatious arrangements. Just a small small glass or clay vase with three or flowers sticking out. She taught me what a spider plant was. She had a couple in the house hanging from a window. Her “office” had a huge bay window over looking the backyard and the back wall had wallpaper that was an entire beach scene. There was a small vegetable garden the back yard where she grew rhubarb. I had my first rhubarb pie there and have loved that sweet tangy taste ever since. Every winter she would fly to Florida for a month. Sanibell island. I have never gone, but I think it must have been the perfect place for her. Beaches, sun, warmth, calm relaxing everything in life she loved. She would go with friends or by herself, never with grandpa. She would bring back a bag of Sanibell sand. The smooth white sand that was delicious to sink the feet and hands into. I could not image such sand. She would bring me back sand dollars, starfish and sea shells. I loved to envision her on the beach. Her big dark sunglasses, her white visor and over sized blue shirt blowing in the warm breeze.
She stopped going to Sanibel maybe 10 years ago. She hasnt gone to any beach in a couple years I think. She gave me the mythology book four years ago when the doctor gave her six months to live. The garden has not been tended to for years, and I am pretty sure the flowers in the flower beds have wilted. Her clothes and shoes sometimes have little holes in them and she no longer plays school with me. We both seem to have outgrown the pass time. She hasn’t responded to any of my letters in months. It is too cold for her to sit on the porch and I think she prefers to lie down these days anyway. She is a bit weaker, slower and more fragile. She doesn’t always remember things, and is not so quick as she once was. Is death a ghost in her mind right now as she drifts in out of conversations? Slowly age is taking more and more from her withering her like the flowers she once had on the table. She was never very affectionate. Never really said I love you. But there are times right now when I long to hold her and cross the that proper distance to comfort her now. But that is not our way. So I write letters. And send her words of life to fill her days.