The old aqua blue telephone on the patio table. The pansies my grandfather planted in a neat row. And the dahlias—oh those beautiful, intense, many-petaled dahlias—in a tall wooden pot next to the telephone.
But what I remember most is the wooden fence, and the tight alleyway my sister snuck through to get from their house to ours. My sister: Dahlia. My grandmother had planted the flowers for her. Dahlia, 8 years-old, the same age as my first child is now.
She snuck through with my grandpa because he would walk her home. Every day afterschool she would go to my grandparents’ house, and stay there until my mother got home. She did her homework, ate a snack (probably challah, soup, or toast). Sometimes she sewed with my grandmother.
And then my grandpa would take her hand, walk her home, through the alley, out the other side, around the corner to our house.
And why, when I write this, am I moved? Why I am shattered?
Why is that path between the houses—my grandfather’s hand, my sister’s afternoons eating and gardening and sewing with them—so triggering, so meaningful?
Partly because they are gone, of course. The flowers, the telephone, the wooden fence (now shiny white). My grandparents, buried together under a cherry tree in Staten Island. And my sister’s 8-year-old self—32 now, across the continent in misty Seattle.
What moves me the most is the love, the protection. It’s my mother finally having help and family nearby after all those years as a single mom. All those years alone, 3000 miles away from her parents, in California. It’s my mother not having to worry that her little girls had to stay at an afterschool center, or be latch-key kids. It’s that my mother didn’t have to do it alone, for the first time in many years.
The other day I was pushing my two-year-old son past my grandparents’ old apartment building. And I was swept back to that time. I could see myself then, 13 years old, reckless, full of teenage angst and lust, missing my father, my friends, my California. But a little calmer too, a little more settled, a little closer to home.
And my mother—I didn’t understand any of it until I became a mother. I didn’t understand at all how lonely she had been all those years in California, how hard it must have been for her to raise two girls alone. I didn’t understand what great solace she must have found moving back home.
photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons
This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.