The color of her dress was a cross between periwinkle and the dusty blue of a prairie sky just after sunset. There was a pattern of small white flowers infused into the fabric that swayed in time to the movement of her hips. She was strong and young still, years from the strain of farms at auction, of entire communities vanishing, tilting toward the promise of union wages. Her eyes were green, and her nails were painted Ala Carte Blue. The hue of her dress and the blue of the tips of her fingers provoked a kind of stupor, a trance of scalded milk and blurry edges. The hem of her frock fell to just above her knees, exposing a slim white scar, the result of a tumble off her bike on that gravel road just off the old Red Rock bypass. When she walked a cup of coffee across the café, every head turned to watch the sway of that blue skirt, the set of those shoulders, the cadence of the quiet hum of her heart. The all wanted that coffee. They all wanted to be the cup in the palm of that hand.
My grandfather was blind, so there was a terrible fascination with those vacant orbs. Because of this marginalized sense, he was reserved and quiet, and frightening. It could be that it was his personality to not interact much with the family. (After all, we were a loud and boisterous tribe of hooligans.) As a young child, I mostly observed him, fascinated and terrified. There was a large walk-in coat closet at the front of the house, where he kept an electric shaver. My dad used one of those death defying straight edge razors, so the fact that my grandpa could shave without being able to see was beyond comprehension. This was at a time in the world when men wore hats, and so did my grandpa. His forehead was pale from the hat, giving him a “farmer’s tan”, and those pale blue eyes peered out from under the brim of that soft grey hat and saw…shadows? One day I was lying on the grass beneath a plum tree in the back yard. He shuffled by and paused, calling me by my sister’s name, scaring the hell out of me. He apparently had some sight, enough to make out the shape of a young girl, but to a silly child, it was horrifying to be identified by the blind man on a sunny Spokane summer day. Grandpa possesed habits that shaped my world. He make popcorn on the stovetop. Without seeing. How did he know not to burn the corn kernels? It was beyond comprehension. He used to sit in the kitchen at the yellow formica table, listening to baseball games on a transistor radio. He would sit for hours, listening to the play-by-play, announcers from cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. My grandpa’s blind eyes saw things that haunt me still.
“Get lost,” she said, closing the door with a dramatic flourish, something she’d harbored fantasies of but had never actually done. “Bye-bye,” she said, to the oak paneled door, bowing and backing away as if to attest to the gravity of the moment. She hadn’t thought about it. They had been talking, then hotly debating, which evolved into a rant, an argument, several accusations, and ultimately, a crossing of a line in a sea of sand she hadn’t known existed until now. She had tolerated the small crises when they arose, and met them with compassion. Still, when he tried to sneak something in: a package, a golf bag, a box of detritus, she called him on it. “Please remove it asap,” she wrote in dutiful, polite emails, paper trails of the millennium. There was always an excuse, high dudgeon. So much drama! For a lawyer, she expected something more. Something somewhat more dignified. The debris of one marriage, two marriages. It was too much. “Storage was never part of the deal,” she said, when she found a rental van backed up to the garage, discovering a deceit he had hoped to conceal until the deed was complete and then what could she do but protest inertly? “My brother in law moved,” he lamented. “It’s only temporary!” he cried. How did he manage to pass the bar? How had he survived this long in a liberal hotbed of assertive women and sensitive men? His mother had coddled him. His wives enabled him. “I told you. This is not your storage solution.” Then it came to her that all the times when she said no, he had feigned concern but had ultimately rejected her protests. In his head he muted her voice, her opinions dismissed as irrelevant. She didn’t want to be that gorgon, but now she craved to be heard, to bear the weight of relevance. “Go now,” she said gently, to herself, bowing and backing down the long hall toward the kitchen. Go. Now. To that place of lost treasure.
Finding my voice took some practice. For the longest time I wailed: I want to be a writer! Some very good friends said: So? Write. So? I did.
I once had a cra-cra writing mentor who—I learned later—had been using heroin while she taught us and which in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Anyway, that writing teacher was brilliant, which explains how she could teach while zonked out of her mind, or fighting the pangs of opiate hunger while she taught, which also in retrospect makes so. Much. Sense. Well, this brillint writer/teacher said: just write. Don’t’ try to make sense of it, your subconscious will connect the dots. Best writing advice I ever got and has served me well for years. Maybe it takes that reckless, dangerous behavior to get to the really good stuff, because after all, writing is a physical act. Writing is a physical act that brings the immaterial into physical being. No, it is not simply mental or imaginative. Writing. With a pen and paper, is really writing. If I were super famous, I would expect a landslide of email contradicting that point, but this is my process and one which incidentally, requires fine motor skills, and a good pen moving across reasonably fine paper to translate neural impulses that form into thought in one part of the brain while another part of the brain parses the sounds of Mozart on the Dot and finches in the hedge outside my window. Physical. Here. Now. Finding voice takes practice. If for nothing else, to discover belief. It takes familiarity with your own voice to learn to believe it, and to believe that others might believe it, too.
My oldest living relative would by my aunt, my mother’s sister. She was one of four children, and she had nine babies with my uncle. As a reward for a life well lived, she is our matriarch. It is so strange to move inevitably closer to that category: the elder generation. The wise ones. The ones with institutional memory. Where do the stories go when the elders are gone? Does the narrative lose its bite? Do the family mythologies soften around the edges like a cherished photograph carried for years in a wallet? Perhaps family stories are like an image that over time fades until only the ghost of an persona remains.