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  • Writer's picturemolly ofgeography


i haven't seen my grandmother in almost three years and now i won't, ever again. it's strange how time passes that way: slowly by day, but so fast in hindsight, tiny days piling up and up. in some ways i think i haven't seen my grandmother in half a decade. in some ways i think the last time i saw my grandmother was a lifetime ago.

my grandmother used to send me poetry in the mail, written carefully by hand on lined paper. she used to call me "mollydear," like it was all one word: mollydear, would you like a sandwich? mollydear, could i paint your portrait? mollydear, come to the library, i have a book i want you to read.

there's an unfinished portrait of me in my grandparents' basement. my grandmother started it when i was ten, maybe eleven. but there was never enough time. i couldn't sit still. there were things to do and i didn't want to sit. to compromise, my grandmother brought out the old typewriter and put fresh ink in it. i could sit in the art room and type out long, rambling, plotless stories while she painted. the art room smelled like paint and paper. it had a big, unshuttered window where the sunlight spilled in.

my grandmother thought that portrait, even incomplete, was the best she'd ever done.

when i was still young enough not to feel guilty asking for things, my grandfather redid the garden shed for me. for a long time it was just the covered box he stored his tools in, but i loved it, its smell, its tiny walls. i loved the door that stuck on its hinge, the heavy wooden lock. my grandfather cleaned it out one winter and painted the inside, and my grandmother decorated it with pictures and flowers. they put the typewriter in it, so i could write. but sometimes i just spent all day pretending it was a bunker or a tower or a ship and i was sailing somewhere. that was my little, hidden space. nobody else was allowed in. i can't remember if my siblings or cousins even knew about it, or if we kept it between us, my grandparents and i.

those summers we always had family olympics and i never won any of the events. but my grandmother made me my own trophy and always gave me most improved, except the year she awarded me for having the best smile.

my grandmother had soft hands. not just to touch, but the way they moved, gently through the air like she didn't want to disturb it. i used to watch her pat her hair down, mesmerized by the way her arm seemed to float up to gently touch the curve of her head, and then float back down. i couldn't see that her touch had made any discernible difference to her hair, but it was the gesture that mattered, the gesture that was part and parcel of my grandmother moving through the world.

her hands stayed soft when she sketched, when she painted, when she drove. her hands stayed soft through long summer nights with the whole family on the porch, the lights bright, the kids in and out and thundering up and down the stairs. for some reason in my memory my father is always reading 1776. i can see him so clearly on the porch, one ankle resting sideways on his knee, 1776 resting closed on the table in front of him while he talks. my grandparents would be in the kitchen, cooking. we always had klondike bars for dessert, the kind with caramel on the outside. but sometimes my grandmother slipped me lorna doones before dinner.

lorna doones were one of her favorite cookies, and mine too. they're simple, just shortbread. but my grandmother would hold out the sleeve and i would take one, then two, then one more if she offered (she always offered).

all these memories of my grandmother feel so piecemeal. they feel unwhole. i think my grandmother knew i loved her but i wonder if my grandmother knew how often and how warmly i think of that house, of that art room, of the times i spent typing while she painted. i wonder if my grandmother knew how much of my body i attribute to her--my square jaw, my wide hips, my small hands. i wonder if she knew that when i look in the mirror i see an old black-and-white photo from her youth that i have only seen once, but never forgot: square jaw, full mouth, big eyes, the two of us reflecting one another across mountains of tiny days, stacked up and up and up.

her stack has grown so tall i can't see her anymore. she is too high up, and wrapped in clouds.


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