Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Friday, July 11, 2014

To Hen

Today is my grandmother's birthday. The willows are blooming here in Santa Fe, and after it rains, my garden steams. The earth is heavy with clay. I've been growing so many good things; I want to show her. I still think of her all the time. 

I still write her letters about my life: my job, my garden, my writing, my partner. My high-desert home. I go to sleep and dream and send the letters then.

Hen passed two years ago, and this was what I wrote:

To Hen

I think of Hen and I’m thinking in pictures: her garden path, blooming with primrose and myrtle, crocus and daffodil and peony where the sun shone. Hen in the doorway of her Menands house, greeting us, or in the library, reading the paper. I can remember best Hen bustling through the kitchen, her African violets lined up on the shelf over the sink. I remember the hallway where we could always find tins of cookies. I remember her dotted dresses, the way she applied lipstick, and the distinctive way she smelled, like cookies and her Yardley-of-London soap. I remember the places in her bedroom where we hid the thimble, and I remember her dresser, set neatly with brushes and combs and pictures of us. In one, we cousins are grinning in the sunshine, arranged in a line according to our height, and in another Poppa smiles gruffly from his seat on the tractor. I remember Christmases like fairy tales, meals around the dining room table, breakfast on the sun-porch and always the sound of Hen’s voice, the Yardley scent of her, her eyes bright upon us.

I think of all the places Hen has seen: most of all I imagine that trip she took to Innsbruck long ago, when she waited for hours and hours in the train while the German soldiers marched through the city. I think of her courage, then and throughout her long life. I think of the children she raised, and of the astonishing things they’ve accomplished. I think of Hen’s wry, clever smile, and the way she devoured books. She gave me crayons when I was very little and she said to me, Draw. When I got bigger, she said, Write something. She taught me how to move about the kitchen and the garden, and she introduced me to the realm of the artistic.

 David, my brother and Hen’s grandson, is living near Innsbruck now. He’s teaching English and thinking of Hen, all the while watching the mountains while the sun shifts and the snow lightly falls.  Hen is with you, I said to him when we last spoke. She is with you just like she’s with me. She is closer to you now than she has been in years. She knows that place, she’s seen those peaks, she never forgot that trip. Look to the mountains, or in the cobblestoned streets, and you’ll see her, just the way she looked in those old photographs we found in her bedroom years ago: her hair so dark, her skin unlined and her smile quick. May she come to you in your days and in your dreams, I said to him. You can find her in your own face and in mine, for we hold within us the gift of her extraordinary life.