this was a pattern that, in retrospect, was both a huge blessing and a horrible curse. it allowed me weeks at a time of unadulterated grandparental attention- attention that bolstered my belief in my own ability to do anything in ways i will probably never fully know. it also put me in memphis during the most intolerably hot time of year in an era when neither central air nor telephonic technology were all that they should have been.
because long-distance phone calls were still prohibitively expensive (to the extent that i remember begging my parents to let me call libby and nearly dying of elation when, once every six months, they relented), there was an undercurrent of sadness to these trips. i talked to my parents maybe once a week. i vividly remember one trip when i had a photograph of my mother (circa 1993, wearing a power suit and inexplicable dutch wooden shoes) that, in the privacy of my room, i would gaze upon whenever i was overcome with loss.
we did not yet have the context of being in mississippi for comparison, so in those days, being in memphis was like traveling to the ends of the earth. i read books about pioneers and commiserated. i too had ventured to an untamed land.
my grandfather was working then and, for some reason, my memories of these trips are spotty at best. all involve my grandmother and most are just little sensory snapshots of fleeting moments here and there.
the vivid sweetness of her spaghetti sauce, which ran so red with watered down canned tomato paste that it would stain my teeth, such an exciting phenomenon to my young self that i would tuck into bowl after bowl only to spend shameful amounts of time before the mirror staring at what my gran referred to as my "tomato smile."
the sumptuous, cold thickness of the milk in her fridge. at the time i attributed this to my grandmother's magical powers. only later would i learn it was the difference between skim and 2%.
the feel of my grandmother reading in bed beside me as she waited for me to fall asleep each night, one hand holding her book, the other running over and over and over through my hair, each caress stirring up the gentle scent of her white rain shampoo that i used every morning because, more than anything in the world, i wanted to be like her.
there has been no other time in my life quite like those summers. i like to think that had someone told me they were going to end, i would have savored them more. as it was, i took so terribly much for granted.
my grandmother is 81 now. we hug awkwardly, both of us too aware of our bodies. her bones poke through papery skin like a newborn kitten's. she makes me feel too tall, too strong, too alive. i don't thank her nearly enough.
i've never told her that because, during those summers, she watched soap operas while doing laundry, as an adult i cannot iron without humming the theme from as the world turns.