In search of story


Disconnections: July 4.18

In an amazing, death-defying feat of coordination and grace, I balanced colander and bowl and camera as I cleaned beans yesterday evening on the swing. There was a hope of incoming storm — how we need the rain — and as I sat there I felt the change: the breeze rose almost to the level of wind, the underbellies of leaves rolled upward, and a blessed cool-down settled on a hot world.

The colander belonged to my Grandma O’Hern. She too cleaned beans in it. In her cotton summer housedresses, shoulder-to knee apron, Grandma shoes, and, yes, hairnet, she was always cleaning something. Except when chores were done and she’d sit on her swing on her screened porch. On my luckiest days, I sat next to her.

She was the daughter of immigrants. Both my grandmas were daughters of immigrants. Neither finished grade school. I sat for a long time yesterday evening looking at that colander. Of course I was no longer on that deck but was in her kitchen, on her swing.

The 4th of July finds me very introspective this year. From sea to shining sea one vast ad-hominem attack.  Purple-mountained alternative facts. Amber waves of tweets. A fruited plain of party lines.

I guess the colander challenged me to fly the flag today for the right reasons.

It never did rain last night; some things we cannot influence. I choose to think the flag says there are some things we CAN influence.



The heiress

My father’s mother was driving him nuts. She would shovel her own snow, she would mow her own lawn with her push mower, she would stay in that house. She apparently did not know that she was in her 70s.

When she finally permitted my father to think he’d prevailed, she wanted speed: decision made today; move tomorrow! I was a young adult at the time, and I found that my age was no deterrent to sense of loss. No more Grandma’s house?

Mourning, I went to help, unprepared for the energy with which Grandma was separating herself from her meager possessions. Panic seized me as I saw her emptying her pantry, and I launched myself into a goalie’s stance between her and the wastebasket. DON’T THROW THAT OUT! was wrenched from me every time she carried a discard across the kitchen. That dented colander, the freebie glasses from movie theaters, her noodle cutter — in the garbage? I don’t think so! Grandma indulged me and, with minumum head-shaking, handed over her cast-offs and, with them, comfort.

My grandchildren love grapes, and I wash their grapes in that dented colander. I see it in Grandma’s lap as she cleaned green beans at her kitchen table with the plastic tablecloth and the salt shaker with the rice in it. I see her cotton housedress and apron. I see behind her the screened door that thwacked smartly when left to close itself.

As I hoist the grape-weighted, dripping colander from my sink, I say to my grandchildren, “This belonged to your great-great-grandmother.”

Secretly I say HA! to my grandma. She might have sold the house but I got the good stuff.

One grandma's trash is another grandma's treasure.

One grandma’s trash is another grandma’s treasure.