Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Day of the Dead (A Dead Day Late)

Although I didn't participate this year, last year I went and walked along the route of the Day of the Dead parade up here in San Francisco. Although its proximity to Halloween might make people think that it's a scary holiday, it's actually more of a night to celebrate life while at the same time remembering those close to us who have recently passed away.

As something of an homage to the holiday, below is something that I wrote for a storytelling class as part of an exercise called "Ancestral Evocation." It's about one of my grandmothers who passed away a couple of years ago. I miss you, Gramma.

When I took part in the ancestral evocation exercise in class, some phrases by my family members came very quickly to mind, whether it was my mother’s inappropriate comment to me before one of my first dates, “Keep it in your pants,” or my grandfather softly signing, “Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.” But for one of my family members, the words were a little more difficult to hear. When it came time to evoke a phrase from my grandmother, the first thing that came to me was my remembrance of her little giggle.

I’m sure many of us have or have had grandmas that interact with us in this way. If our parent’s job is to raise us and to discipline us, many grandparents’ job seems to be to spoil us and to be amused by us. My dad’s side of the family was loud and joyous and loved to have a good time, and my grandmother was always there, loving every minute of it, and expressing her love for it by her giggle. One of the first times that I remember her laughing was when I was really little, maybe four or five years old. She had this ceramic, blue cookie jar that was in the shape of a very rotund chef, complete with chef’s hat and hands on his belly, ostensibly to keep him from exploding from being too full. I looked up at her (you know how everyone looks so big when you’re little?), and, I said, “Grandma, can I please have a cookie?” Her first response was just to giggle her little giggle, in the way that grandmas do when you’re being a cute little kid, and she went over to the cookie jar, pulled me out a cookie, and handed it to me. It was just a Fig Newton, but beggars can’t be choosers as far as cookies are concerned.

One of the next times I remember her giggling like that was when I was in high school, and we were celebrating Christmas at her house. In the middle of everything, she got up, walked back to her room, and came back with a box from a department store. She opened it up, and what my 80 year old grandma pulled out wasn’t lingerie, exactly, but it was silky and pink and pretty definitely designed for wearing to “bed.” Her pronouncement about this garment was: “Look at what grandpa got me for Christmas.” And again she giggled. Though this one sounded the same, this was more the laugh of someone who knows they’re being funny; this was the laugh of an equal who was letting me in on the joke.

One last scene with my grandma was a couple years after grandpa had died. After his death, her health got worse and worse, and the family put her into house with a couple of other older people who couldn’t take care of themselves like they used to. The night before I saw her, my dad had a dream that featured Grandpa, and in the dream, grandpa had told my dad to go see grandma. So, we piled into the car, and drove up to see her. Grandma wasn’t giggling any more. Though she had been a healthy, somewhat plump woman, my grandma now weighed less than ninety pounds. She was lying, crunched up on her bed, sleeping, with her mouth almost gasping for air, like a person coming up from under water. Now I was the more physically powerful figure, but there was no way that I could help her like she had helped me when I was little to get that cookie. As I watched her, and as we said our goodbyes, I remembered her giggle, and what that had meant to me. She passed away two hours after we left.

But her death’s not what I want to remember about my grandmother. I want to remember her joy for life and her family that was expressed in her little giggle. I haven’t imitated it in this story because I don’t want to taint my remembrance, because if I sit still and think for a moment, I can still remember how it sounded. That laugh is how I want to remember her.

No comments: