Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Tree

I have a Sequoia theory, which is my own interpretation of a scientific fact I once heard, but have never again seen in any book anywhere... It resounded so deeply within me, that I keep it in my heart, carry it with me, and deeply believe it. Someone said (well, maybe it was a dream, ?, but I heard it loud and clear), that although Sequoias seem to be free-standing individual trees, when you study a group of them all together, they appear to be one organism, with a shared root structure. Dig down, and you can't see where one tree ends and another begins. They are endlessly intertwined and tangled together. I think families are the same way. Every member may grow on his/her own...some thrive, some wither, some in the sun, and some in the shade, but they all connect, and are indispensable in the life chain, and to each other.

"Hi, my grandmother is a resident on your floor, and, I know she won't know me if I ask to speak to her... I'm just checking in on her. How is she doing?" I would call her senior residence every once in a while to find out if she needed anything.

"Oh, what a sweet lady!" (I think the nurse was lying, but I'll never know for sure.) "Sure, she doesn't talk anymore now, and we're not sure if she can see, but she's comfortable, and I've noticed she moves her hands a lot. Did she sew? It kinda looks like she's sewing."

I used to hate the state of North Carolina. Somehow "hate" doesn't seem a strong enough word. I really thought it was absolutely the devil's very armpit. I was about 16 years old on my first trip there, on a spur-of-the-moment trip with my parents to see my grandmother. She was a woman I didn't understand. I only got to "meet" her after her death, and now, finally, it all makes sense.

I wish everyone could get an opportunity to have a "full circle" experience like mine, which will probably take a few posts to explain... but my father never mentioned her... EVER. I mean, we were aware that she existed, of course, but kinda silently agreed that we all suspected some huge scandalous backstory that we didn't want to hear. It may seem strange that a person would never have ANY stories to share about his mother, and that he only sent money, checked in with others regarding her welfare, and only reluctantly called her to say "Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas", never forced us kids to get on the phone with her, never pestered us to send cards or acknowledge her in any way... But, what is even stranger, is an outta-the-blue announcement that we would be going to visit her.

So she lived in a ridiculously little town near Charlotte, NC. Well, not near... but there's no other way to identify it. It was mid-summer, and so brutally hot I thought I would absolutely fry. My Grandmother's family (funny how I don't refer to them as my Dad's family) was, for far too long, one of the only African American families in that town, and BOY, could you tell when you got there. In what seemed a relatively affluent neighborhood, my grandmother occupied a very large lot, and lived in, what appeared to me (or to anyone, really), absolute squalor. Was that a house, a shack, or what? Someone had been regularly clearing the weeds and trees, I could tell. This little lady came out to greet us, and her face brightened. I didn't want to go in. I didn't want to stay. She hugged my dad, my mom, and then me, staring at me in amazement, saying "You look just like me!" Geesh, I hoped not. She wasn't bad looking, and in great physical shape, but she must have been about 80 then. So you know what I mean.

We sat down in the front room, which seemed to be her bedroom, living room and parlour, all rolled into one. A huge photograph of what looked like some random native american (I would later learn it was my paternal grandfather), a very old, beautiful sewing machine, a pot-belly stove (seriously), her bed, and other random stuff. We talked in polite, circular conversations for what felt like an eternity. She would disappear in her thoughts, forget who we were, and need to be reminded. She would occasionally glance at me, brighten, and shout "Oh, you look just like me!" The surly teenager in me would repeatedly respond, "I'm your granddaughter" over and over again. This was news to her every time I said it. And she kept looking at my legs, repaeating "Pretty little legs!" happily. There were several doors to this room, but it wasn't until she was distracted for a bit outside, that I got to see the world they were hiding.

My dad got up and explored the kitchen. As long as I live, I will never forget what we saw when we opened it for the first time. I know people eat squirrels, but she had caught them herself, and stored them in the fridge, fur on... Yeesh. In retrospect, I think this trip must have been for my dad to verify for himself that she couldn't live alone. The kitchen was tidy, but showed no sign of an awareness of sanitary storage procedures or food safety issues. This may have inspired my deep love for beautiful kitchens and knitted dishcloths. Just the greatest symbols of nurturing and love, which were absent in this place.

This is a page from Needle Craft: Artistic and Practical, published by Butterick Publishing Company, Ltd. 1889.

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