Memento mori

It is late August and I am 7 going on 8, never quite old enough in years or in looks. My dad is a school teacher and my mom works at the bank so I stay with my grandparents for a couple of days because my dad and mom are at work and I need somewhere to go. I’ve gone in with my dad to prepare his classroom, he teaches science and the room smells of ammonia, of thick desktops made from black stone good for cleaning up spills. Glass beakers, plastic goggles, a large periodic table of elements. A break room where my dad gives me a coin to buy a soda.

For reasons I’ll never know, we call my grandmother Nana. There’s Nana and then there’s Nana Weiss, her mom, who’s forever old from the time we meet until the time she dies. And they have a Mediterranean look, they could be Italian, with olive skin and dark eyes, but I later learn they’re German with the name Weiss, and that gets Nana’s brother Frank beaten up at school, accused of being a Jew.

Nana drives a big brown sedan and takes me to the mall. It’s funny picturing me in the passenger’s seat, my legs hardly touching the floor, Nana driving and humming a tune. It’s 1978 and things couldn’t be better. I’ve been watching the TV show Battlestar Galactica and they have some action figures of the Cyclon Warriors I’ll later buy, or Nana will, as a treat for me starting school. And having a day with my grandma at the mall.

We go to the German restaurant Dunderbak’s that’s dark inside with foreign music playing, an accordion she says, and colored flags on the ceiling that change the light. I always get the root beer that comes in a frosted mug and nana the iced tea with a big straw.

Nana buys me new clothes, a book, and a Cyclon Warrior so I’ve got handle bags from different stores and lots of stuff we load into the trunk and it feels like my birthday. And maybe I’ll talk to my parents on the phone because my mom will check in, and maybe I’ll watch some TV in the den with my grand-dad. Or play ping-pong with him in the basement. I go to sleep happy even though summer’s over and I’m nervous about going back to school. And wake to scrambled eggs and toast with cinnamon and sugar.

It is 2015 and I’m making the rounds as we always do on our way to the airport. We stop at Nana’s because her house is the furthest east, an easy stop on the way to Newark.

I never performed well on visits like that. I was distracted, in a rush, worried about making our flight. We would stop at the Panera Bread to buy sandwiches and lay everything out on the table with paper plates and napkins, plastic bags with chips.

The kids weren’t old enough to be swallowed in their phones yet so they’d take turns sitting on Nana’s lap, but then she’d get tired or need to go to the bathroom. We’d take pictures but no one looks good in photos like that, everyone looks vaguely solemn. You have to take them anyway, you take anything you can.

I think that’s the time my grandma really sobbed when we said goodbye, she never cried that way before. And I thought about it driving away, was this the last time? Was that the reason for her crying like that? She’d even taken me aside and absconded me, she was angry and hurt. She’d been reduced to a little girl, that look she wore, when she said we never came enough. She was right. And she was an old lady with her cane now and her hair all white, just watching the TV and taking her pills, sometimes talking on the phone. Maybe I didn’t have it in me for all that.

So I take Charlotte to the book store and afterwards the mall, and we stop at the Starbucks even though everyone’s in masks and it feels like we shouldn’t be in public now. And I recount for her what it was like when I’d go with my grandma to the mall this time of year. But she was probably too young, and doesn’t remember her.

Nana Marie?, she says. And she remembers for a bit, but then she doesn’t.

So it’s just for me then, all this. The big brown sedan, her humming behind the wheel, us stopping for lunch. Being seated in the back and opening our menus. Me going to bed happy, knowing that one day I’ll be older.



Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

24 replies

  1. Sublime. Closing the loop with Charlotte

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘I go to sleep happy’ … ‘Me going to bed happy’.
    A nicely written piece, meaningful, thoughtful. Thank you Bill.

    Cane, white hair,
    Pills, TV and phone,
    A happy ending?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thank you David and yes I reckon you must have a deep POV on this yourself, given your work if I’m right. Be well, enjoy the week! Bill

      Like

      • Bill, I sometimes need to do personal care by the side of the Styx. If I put my hand to my ear now, I might just hear the faint sound of sand easing as the boat that carried Vijay to the other side beaches.
        It is sad when l farewell someone like that, someone I like and with whom there is a bond of trust and respect; that sadness is fine by me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nice, it sounds like you have a healthy relationship with death, if one can summarize such a grand notion as that down to one passing observation. I think I pretend to, but you never really know until that time I suppose. I like the way you put it here, thank you…meanwhile, life is good! Wishing that for you and yours too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Bill, I have a few days off (we cancelled a trip because of Covid restrictions) and so enough time on my hands to make a sardonic comment on the ‘only death and taxes are certain’ theme.

        All is good, Bill – in fact just yesterday I felt the kind of thrill that an anally retentive Belgian forensic accountant, perhaps a descendant of the Poirot line, must feel when I worked out the Capital Gains tax liability on the sale of three orphan shares worth US $12.50 each. Kudos to our Tax Office for getting onto this and bringing it to my attention.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hercule Poiroit? Now that’s something, wow! Sorry for the change in plans but you sound well despite. It’s a holiday here in the states today and I just completed a week’s worth of physical work about the house, culminating in 3 days of pruning and weeding.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a good use of time Bill.
        However, I plan to skive off today – first a river walk with number two son, followed by a kick of the toofa (that’s local slang for the oval shaped ball used for Australian Rules Football) in the park and some sandwiches from 7/11 in the sunshine. Then I might finish off my tax return, weather depending.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sounds perfect David!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely tribute, memories Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  4. …r the reverse.
    Sitting in a park munching fried chicken because I had to get out of the house. Reading another’s memories, separated by time distance and fried genes, and feeling—wanting to feel—the connection. To Nanas, children, chicken. Anything but being swallowed by Ultimate Golf on the phone.
    The sun emerges.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This stirs up lot of semi-comparable memories … I think memories are essentially for the one recalling them … but I find sharing them reinforces and sometimes amplifies details I hadn’t yet focused on … it’s great when one’s kids will listen! I’ve been startled a few times by my kids reminding me of some story I’d told them years earlier about life before they came along.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a personal post and bringing so many memories, alive with the happy moments to be cherished. I absolutely love such tales and bonding that define us for life. In Indian families, we call our grandfather mostly mom’s Dad as Nana:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to call your grandfather nana, Vishal! Thanks for sharing and for reading my friend. I saw a sign for someone running for elected office today and his name was Vishal…now I’ve got a connection with that name, ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow Bill. This is one of those posts that seems like a simple little snippet of memoir, but that sits with me like a Shemira. There is lots to unpack here and we each have our own goodbyes to revisit, but something about this feels like a surgeon taking a scalpel to my heart…the memories it provoked are just that sharp.
    Your words have a lot of power. Quite a gift Bill. Hope you and yours are staying well and keeping sane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey lady! Such a nice, warm comment here and so good to hear from you again. I hope the summer was as good as it could be under the circumstances. Thank you for checking in and sorry if I cut your heart there…I have to go look up Shemira now, you have me intrigued…thanks for that. Enjoy the remains of the day as it were! Hope you got a little rain last night, we did up our way and it was glorious. I actually just stood in it for a bit! Oh to the PNW

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh you are fortunate up there to have a little rain. Still none down our way. But the cloudy, cool weather is feeling really good about now.

    Liked by 1 person

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