Today is my grandmother's 85th birthday, an occasion that makes me feel more grateful than I can ever convey in words. I'm so lucky that I still have her in my life; she's a touchstone for me daily despite the fact that we live so many states apart.
Last week I got to take Jamie to visit her in Arlington, Texas, and sleeping in the back bedroom of her house with him brought me full circle; I'd slept in that bed when I was even younger than him, and in fact was brought home to that bedroom after I was born because my father was in Vietnam. I moved around so much growing up, and my Grammy's home has been one of the few constants in my life, year in and year out. When I go there, it's a physical comfort, and when I don't, it's there in my deep consciousness offering me safety and emotional security when I need it. There were so many Christmases that I fell to sleep in that back bedroom in the four poster Civil War-era cannonball bed, so excited that Santa was somehow going to squeeze down her Chimney and leave us something. Waking up on Christmas morning and walking down the hallway to the early morning sounds of my grandparents in their antique playroom is a lucid memory that I can draw on and picture vividly: the hallway is dark and lined with family portraits, and there is soft carpet beneath my feet. At the end of the hallway there's light coming through from the living room, but the sounds are coming from even further, from the antique playroom where the player piano plays and the coffee mill stands and the old fashioned grain stand and cash register and doll house that lights up that was built by my granddad all sit waiting, aligned in some kind of Semper Fi fashion, because for me the Marines have landed, and sitting at the round "coffee table" is my own Marine, wrapping last minute gifts with a precision that must have been born from his service years.
I close my eyes and experience that short walk again and again. There's the smell of coffee and I love it, even though I don't drink coffee yet. Waiting for me and my little brother on the mantel are oranges stuffed in stockings and peppermint sticks that you dig into their peel to suck out the juice, very messily. One of the best gifts I've ever received in my life came from my grandparents; a little white Beatrix Potter bookshelf that holds the complete set of her books. I have been able to pass this down to my son with stories: My favorite game when I was little was to play Librarian, which meant dumping the poor books out onto the floor to see how quickly I could put them back in order. In the 4th grade, I stuffed a note I got from Zack Shandler in the back of the bookshelf because he told me I would be a writer someday and drew a picture of me holding a book. Nevermind that it one of the 22 birthday letters I received, one from each classmate, and he was obligated by Mrs. Garcia to give it me.
Going back to Arlington this year to see my extended family sprouted a dormant seed of comfort that I didn't realize I needed so badly. There are no words to express how much these relationships mean to me. That I can pour myself a cup of coffee (coffee holds a big presence in my Texas memories; Putting on a Fresh Pot was just the thing to do) and pick up the phone in the afternoon in New York and get my Grandmother on the other line, to chat or spill my guts, depending on the day, has felt like a having a life saver thrown into a turbulent ocean whenever I've needed it. Watching Jamie run around in her huge backyard; watching her birds come to the feeders as if on a timer; visiting with her and her little Yorkie Teddy until I can barely keep my eyes open... all I can say is Happy Birthday, Grammy, I love and adore and treasure you. xoxo