Strange, what yellowed, waxed shades can do to a room. Coloring memories like a faded parchment; muting them in the filtered light to play a silent ballet. A dance, delicate as dust particles floating in the air.
Strange, too, how the mood of a room can change when the one who occupied it has passed on. Loss would be a good word for such a mood. First, a subtle turning of the head and then a sudden gasp at the stillness.
Such was the way I found my grandmother’s bedroom when asked to settle her estate. Somber, quiet, weighted with memories. Faded roses on wallpaper, oak floors, chenille bedcover and the smell of lavender perfume.
Her vanity against a far wall stood as if wary – a round mirror somehow disturbed with loneliness. No longer called to reflect the grace or share the friendship of its owner as she sat to brush her hair.
Taped on the mirror was a letter, aged and yellow, like the fragile cellophane that secures it. Gently, I pulled it off to read. It was from me, over fifty years ago. A thank-you note written in grade school for some paints she had given me for Christmas. I cried, remembering.
Alta was my father’s mother; tall, thin, beautiful, opinionated. To all her grandchildren, but me, she was called bossy. Except by me, visits to her home were met with groans. I cherished them. And, over the years, I was able to spend entire summers with her and Grandpa.
I couldn’t tell you which moment or event set Grandma apart for me. It would be like asking which raindrop grew a garden or which leaf of a tree makes it full. Instead, they all combine to make it complete and whole. That is what she did for me, help to make my life whole.
For instance, Grandma kept a yellow canary in her kitchen and it was my pleasure to uncover its cage in the morning. Billy, as he was called, would flutter, hop, and instantly break into song. He made me smile.
“You know why he sings so beautifully?” Grandma would ask. I would shake my head and she would answer. “Because he is caged and his song brings beauty into his world.”
Holding my ancient letter, I moved to sit on the vanity bench and catch a glimpse out the window into her garden. It is here so many fond memories parade not across my mind, but through my heart.
My thoughts follow the memories to find wind stirring the scent of sweet peas, tomatoes, corn and sunflowers. The sun is merciless; and my shadow falls across Grandma as she kneels in the dirt.
In a large brimmed hat with yellow ribbon, she breaks a clod of dirt in her hands, the dust spins in the air. “Secret of life can be found here.” She glances at me. “You know that?”
“It’s hot,” I reply, wiping sweat from my brow.
“It is,” she responds. “Why don’t you go in with your grandpa and watch TV?” Instead, I remained in the garden to learn of buzzing bees and budding blooms; of sowing and reaping; secrets buried in the seasons and the soil.
Smoothing the crinkles from the letter, I now move from the vanity into the joining bathroom with the claw foot tub. Once my own private pool; filled deep by grandma with clean, cool water.
Through this room and down the hall, I walk to find the summer porch. This room with a deep feathered bed was my bedroom back then. Here through the screened windows I would play sentinel over the moon-drenched garden.
Here, I would fall asleep to nature’s chorus of katydids, frogs and yelping dogs. Here, cradled in a cloud I would watch the stars and feel safe knowing in the morning I would have a purpose: to uncover Billy’s cage and let him sing.
And it is here, today where I made one final discovery. There on the wall above my old bed, was the watercolor I had made for Grandma with the paints she had sent me. It was framed, behind glass.
My heart pounds as I touched the glass, remembering. A child’s rendering of a garden with just the two of us; and Billy, flying free through the towering corn.
Strange what yellowed shades can do to a room; but stranger and more wonderful still is what gardens and Grandmas can do to your life. I miss you.
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