Sunday, January 18, 2009


My parents have a little storage shed that, bit by bit, they clean out. It was supposed to have been emptied and the lease given up a couple years ago but, well, life gets in the way. They are back at it today, and my father called to see if I wanted anything. What he was offering had belonged to my grandmother, his mother, who passed away six years ago. The items he was looking to move (at the bargain basement price of free) were a grandfather clock, a spinning wheel, and one or two other things I can’t remember.

My husband never met my grandma. He’s heard the stories (there are plenty of stories), and we have plenty of video of her, but he’s never seen it. Maybe he will someday.

I think every person has at least one remarkable trait, and my grandmother’s most remarkable was making something from nothing. With an alcoholic father and seven siblings, she didn’t make it past tenth grade. But she could take an item from the red stamp store and return it to the blue stamp store. She could landscape her backyard with carpet, for free. She could trick her grandchildren into sweeping her massive front driveway. She got this granddaughter to eat bread crusts, saying it would make my hair curly.

When my father phone from their storage unit and asked if I wanted her clock or spinning wheel, and I said no, I thought about how quickly someone can go away. If we keep their belongings, do we keep them, too? Through their possessions, can other people get to know them? I’m not proposing that Bryan take up the spinning wheel. But if we put it in our home, and the sight of it sparked stories about her, would he come to know her?

Bryan has one grandmother whom I know only through stories, some pictures. Here is my version of Grandma Wally: that she thought all respectable men ought to use a money clip; that she’d been the one who’d wanted to move to Florida, and her husband had agreed, because he would follow her anywhere; that she loved stinky cheeses. If there’s some object that reminds Bryan of her (other than his own money clip) that we could have, I’d want to make room in our home for it. Move a piece of furniture, give away some of my books, knock down a wall. Because stories, whether about something that’s already occurred or is still being told, are what we are.


Renee Thompson said...

Sweet and poignant essay, Michelle. And by the way, I'd give my right nut (if I had one) for that spinning wheel!

lpanik said...

Well, even without the spinning wheel I know you will remember her and all the good times. Lord knows you will not forget the finger and not the one people use with vulgarity. The crooked one. The one when pointed no one really knew who she was pointing at. Oh yes what about the garlic in the ear story. I know it will be exposed in your writings someday if you have to nerve to do so. Of course the character will not be related to you, will she?????
PS, I'll let you know if there are no other family takers for that spinning wheel, Renee