Parallel Play – A letter to my grandmother

Hi Mim. I’m reading a book about writing. It’s suggests, in order to find my authentic writing voice, I write a letter to someone I trust, someone who gets me, shares my sensibility, someone who likes me. You came to mind. I’m 38 now. You’ve been gone for 20 years. I’ve surpassed the years I knew you by 2. I never really knew you, not really. I was too young to know people. Although we spent so many hours together, in your kitchen, in the library, at the card table, swimming, driving, playing games, I didn’t really know you. We occupied the same space – yet I can’t recall one deep and ‘meaningful’ conversation we had. I try to think of one piece of advice you gave me, one sentence you spoke, but there is nothing. I can see you, I can hear your voice, I remember the way your hand would rub my face. I experienced you the way children do, through my senses. We shared space, not words; the universe, but not the knowledge of the universe. We shared time not information. So I decided to say hello and finally share some words with you.
People used to say we were a lot alike, you and I. I never understood that until now. I like to bake and write and read. I like board games, and rules, and lists and libraries. I guess we are alike. How’s Heaven? Tell Jesus I say hello and thank you for everything. I like to be quiet, I like to create, to be alone- with others nearby. There was a movie that came out years ago, called Toy Story, do you remember that movie? There was this one part I want to tell you about:
In the scene it was dusk, the sun was not quite asleep but neither young nor strong. Shadows were cast in Andy’s room, the toys were all quietly at work, doing their own thing. Buzz lightyear working on his space ship, pig and rex playing a board game, woody looking for his hat in the toy box. It was their community, and everyone was ok with everyone else. Busy alone but together.
That’s a nice feeling. Being together like that, not engaging but living, comfortably existing side by side, trusting each other, it’s a familiarity. Some people might see it as primitive, but I see it as family, as a goal to be reached, an evolved relationship, the way you are with a spouse or a child; never feeling pressured to speak or converse. That’s how I felt with you.
I want to tell you, I have not outgrown are dollhouses. I still love them. Remember how important my dollhouses were to me. I think you liked them too. Remember the hobby shop in Westwood you used to bring me to. I loved that store, it was heaven to me. The downstairs was filled with miniatures. Tiny furniture sets, small wooden tables, and itty bitty plates and brooms, and lamps lined the walls. We would spend hours there, just looking around, dreaming. I still dream about dollhouse furniture, tiny little things you would fill a house with. My husband Hal, built our daughter a dollhouse. We work on it together, little by little, her and I, collecting things here and there, wallpapering, painting, putting in a floor. I think I like it more than she does. Sometimes I find something around our real house, like a cleaning towel for my glasses, and I say,
“Hey this would be a perfect rug…” she finishes my sentence …
“for the girls’ room”.
We don’t have a bed in the girl’s room yet, but the rug fits perfect. Her name is Hannah, and she looks like you.
That’s the place we connect, that’s where I connect best. Doing things together. I’m very deep, so deep in fact it’s difficult to express the things in the deep places of my soul. It’s like having a ladder that’s not tall enough or a rope not quite long enough to reach to the bottom, and haul the meaningful things up from the deep places to the surface and share with people. It’s a lot of work and sometimes things fall and are incomplete, and it’s awkward and people get confused by my fragmented Ideas, and then I give up because the ladder is too short. I like to write because I can edit my thoughts. I can read a recipe, follow directions, bake bread, decorate a dollhouse, play scrabble…those are my best channels. Maybe I did know you after all. Maybe that’s where you and I connected- in the tasks of life. We just bypassed the other stuff.
Upon request, Dad gave me the family photo albums, there’s not too many pictures of me. Most of the pictures are of the girls. I was thinking of making them each their own album. What do you think? It might be special, even healing for them. Maybe when they see all the pictures of themselves as babies they will remember how much they are loved, they might even believe it, and that they existed as simple children a long time ago. I can’t connect with them. They are different. I’ve only occasionally felt acknowledged by them, known, and seen. The past few years have been rough, I’ve been a place to unload. I’ve stopped trying to be like them or be liked by them, I’m learning to engage effectively, like a real adult. I don’t feel like they see me as a person, but a little sister. I guess I’m learning to put that aside, to be a grown-up. I can’t always connect with them, but maybe I can help them connect to something good from their childhood, maybe I can’t give words but things, something I made. I’m just better doing stuff. They are really good at talking.
You were so important to us all.
I wondered last night, am I teaching my children well, am I instilling the important stuff. The valuable, useful, honorable, godly stuff? Am I a good role model? Am I giving good advice and listening? Am I a safe place to turn? All I can give them is what I have. And unfortunately that might not be meaningful conversation. I can’t give them who I am, but I can pass on what I have. You didn’t give us yourself, you gave us what you held in your hand. It was very practical, and useful and real. You gave us food when we visited, a warm bed, a bath when we were dirty, you read stories before we slept, and let us nap in your arms. You let us be children at your table with our paper dolls.
We didn’t talk much, you and I – I don’t remember a single dialogue. But I remember the sound of your voice. I remember you had a tiny, whole the size of a pin beneath your bottom lip. You had gray-green eyes, Santa Clause white hair, and a tiny little nose, and you snored. We weren’t talkers together. But I know your face. And you knew things about me. Like you knew I needed glasses when I was in fourth grade. We would laugh about things that we both understood, just by looking at each other. You would point things out, a bright red cardinal, crisp white snow piled on the windowsill, Christmas lights, and a little chipmunk in the woods behind your house- Simple truths and primitive pleasures that we too often overlook in our business suits and SUV’s.
The best feeling for me was sitting on that bed in the spare room looking at the little golden book family treasury collection. I loved the story about the little dog named pee wee, and the fat lady whose house caught fire and she had to be rescued by the firemen and the two twin girls who decided they wanted to be different. I would sit snuggled under the covers, while Charlie sat at the card table watching jeopardy; the volume up extra loud, and you sat close beside me in a chair at your sewing table, the machine spinning wildly when you stepped on the peddle, first slow, then faster and faster and faster than it would suddenly stop. Then start up again methodically. The rhythm would make me feel calm, the hum of the noise gave reason to be quiet, and still. I’m right there, right now- feeling safe and well, warm and whole. Everything is ok, perhaps that is what we all need in life, more than anything else, not good conversation, or clever revelation, not intelligent communication, or adult discussions, helpful advice or perfect role models, perhaps just a safe place, with a good feeling of rest, knowing that everything is ok every once in a while. You were the sleepy dusk, the setting sun, the community I needed, grandparents can do that, they reach a point where they start to settle into childhood again.
It was just a tiny, insignificant apartment, a small spare room, with a closet full of board games and fabric and old hat boxes, a fold up card table, a book shelf lined with Whittier and Whitman. An old boxy TV and a bed with no head or foot board, simple, easy. A window that looked out to a dark forest, an orange shag carpet, nothing beautiful or expensive or fancy and yet priceless were the moments spent in that place. close enough to touch each other, the pulse of the sewing machine alternatively stopping and going, making something beautiful, the hum of jeopardy in the background and everything in place, everyone together, quietly, peacefully, content existing in the same space without the distracting world, without entertaining each other, or expressing or figuring things out, no one to impress, nowhere to be, not feeling any ‘should’ or ‘have to’s’ – no one outgrows that.
That was the place for me, the place of me and you. Just a small spare room No thoughts or regrets of yesterday, no fears or anxieties for tomorrow. The world of a child – presence; perhaps that’s what we had there- you and me, that was our connection. being present was enough for us, you taught me that -not with words but with incidence.
Maybe that’s why you liked me, and why I trusted you. There were no expectations. We could just be together and that was enough. The warm feeling of not being alone. No one left offended or short changed, lonely or unheard. I hope and pray that’s how we left it the last time you left. Do you remember that time?
You were in the bed this time, lying down dying. Not speaking, you couldn’t speak. I sat there beside you in a chair with my head down in my hands, sobbing like the soft murmur of a sewing machine, making sad music. It was over and I knew it. It was enough. We didn’t speak, I tried but we just existed together like the old days, one last time.
It’s enough to be with someone in your last moments of life who gets you, who understands you, who likes you. No words necessary. My aunt said, “She knew” “she knew” I can hear her say that.
We didn’t need words to communicate, to love each other. Speech is merely a lubricant, a barrier reef to the still silent peace of presence and contentment.
Children can cross the reef without effort, without guilt and they try to teach adults how to do it. We think talking is necessary, but the greatest connection is to be alone together while the sun is going down, while the day is drawing to an end. Not everyone is like that-like us, you and me Mim, not everyone gets us.
Well it’s been good to share my time with you, it’s time for me to grow up now. I have to return to saying and being important things, things that drive wedges although they are meant to build bridges. I have to say things outside my comfort zone, things that help people, help prove I’m an adult now, that’s what grown up’s do here, but in heaven…well that’s when I can be a child again.
Love Kim

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