Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: A Thousand Words
By Rikki Akeo
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Somehow, the two Rubbermaid containers didn't quite seem to match her lengthy eighty-plus years, but, I was excited nonetheless. Grandma's life was about to unfold at the opening of each handwritten envelope. She was always so secretive and private, emphasizing 'private' because of a little conversation we had when my son was tracking his heritage for a school project assigned him a few years ago.
"I survived without knowing all the details and so can you," Grandma snapped when I asked her about our ancestors. I truly thought she was personally attacking me as evidenced by my streaming tears. I have few memories with her, although Mom tells me that while married to dad, we visited her every Thursday. That was back in the days of Polaroid.
The mounds of photos failed to intimidate my need to know who Grandma really was. I randomly pull from the pile a handful snapshots from her nursing years. She was so young and beautiful in her traditional uniform. Until recently, I didn't even know she was a registered nurse. The caption identified each fellow student and the event as her graduation celebration.
The next set of photos were precisely dated, Christmas 1976. I didn't have to read her ink to recognize my brothers, sisters and me standing in front of her tree- smack dab in the middle of her living room on Clint Ave. I also saw a young photo of my mother which prompted my call.
"Guess what?" I say. "I'm looking at a photo of you taken years ago by Grandma!"
"Oh, yea?" She says. "I told you we visited a lot when you were younger."
"Gotta go, Mom. Lots to see."
According to another caption under a smashed up T-Bird, Grandma was 'hit by a Japanese man in Lady Bird on November 24, 1992 as I was heading home from jury duty'. To my shame, I didn't know.
Wouldn’t have recognized my own father in the next set of photos either, if not for the explanation beneath that read, "Jojo aged 15, St. Augustine Graduation 1962." Wow. Grandma put Dad in Catholic School?
As I continued through each batch, I realized that Grandma wrote in fine detail fit for the utterly clueless. Each picture offered its clear interpretation. Her notes trailed all along the edge of each Polaroid and across the backs of each snapshot; pen-permitting on such a stubborn surface.
You would think that aging photos would show signs of fading, but, in Grandma's collection, it was in her recent photos. Family faces had slowly been replaced with bell hops and tour guides. There were upwards of fifteen developed rolls of strangers standing with Grandma as she accepted her black belt at seventy years old. Grocery clerks and food servers smiled into Grandma's camera. Where was our family? Where was I?
I walked into Sunny Meadows before visiting hours were over and made a beeline for Grandma‘s room. Her frail body was seated in an overstuffed recliner and she was gumming down macadamias.
"Grandma, doesn't that hurt your mouth?" I ask as I embrace her.
"Don't…worry," she manages in spite of her stroke induced speech impairment.
Her life is no longer a mystery novel, but, a beautiful memoir of which I have read.
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