This morning I read a supremely superb nonfiction essay titled “Mourning my Grandfather Through the Velveteen Rabbit” in an online publication, lithub.com. Originally published April 11, 2017 and written by Sarah Gerard, it was undoubtedly the best article I’ve ever read describing the care and connections between generations.
I was lured in by the title, hooked by the first paragraph, and totally “in” by the third paragraph.
The family was Jewish, and I learned about their burial traditions and the way they care for the elderly. “As they lowered him into the ground, we dropped our gloves in after him. In the Jewish tradition, we bury our own dead, so each of us shoveled a mound of earth from a bucket onto the casket.” Towards the end of the grandmother’s life, the classy lady who had orchestrated fabulous family gatherings, her son (the author’s father) moisturizes her skin and applies sunscreen before putting a baseball cap on her head and taking her for a ride in her wheelchair.
The author writes of dozens of life changes, including moving from one location to another and of growing up and growing old. She was a child going shopping with her grandmother, and in the twinkling of an eye (forgive the cliché), she’s sitting vigil at the bedside of her dying grandfather. The reader sees the grandparents go from meeting at a dance and smiling on a beach to being bed-bound or pushed in a wheelchair. The description was amazing. I was there in the rooms, all of them, with these people. In one scene, the grandmother is in a room hospital facility watching television beneath a white afghan that was once on her family room sofa.
Can’t you see it all? I can, and I want to be able to write like Gerard. But I can’t and likely never will. That’s okay, though. There are different voices, varied stories to tell, and wide-ranging ways and words with which to share them.
In March of last year, I was done, so done, with a family history that I published through CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Publishing). It was a time consuming and sometimes torturous process, one I walked away from limping and gasping for air. Who knew it would be so difficult?
But things began to niggle at me. When glancing through the book recently, I spotted “is” when it should have been “his.” I saw doctor’s offices instead of “doctors’ offices.” What could I do? Only one thing—make it right. Once I decided to correct those small but, to me, significant errors, I felt compelled to add a couple of stories and at least one more photograph. The proof copy will arrive later this week.*
One of my grandmothers was always somewhat of an enigma to me. Loving and generous, yes, but a spitfire too. No doubt you’ve heard “Don’t mess with Texas,” and after hearing a certain family story dozens of time, I could add, “Don’t mess with Beatrice.” Whether completely accurate or not, I know there’s a kernel of truth in the story.
Because of my grandfather’s job with the railroad, my grandparents often lived in what I’ve heard referred to as railroad houses. One time they arrived at a new location, and my grandmother found the house totally unacceptable. I don’t know whether the doors were hanging on hinges, the roof had a leak, or there were bats in the attic. I just know that she was beyond upset. Taking matters into her own hands, she approached the “boss man” about it. Nothing happened. At least, nothing happened in the time frame she expected. After further complaints and requests, Beatrice stepped up her game. Armed with a pistol, she walked to the office** where this man was working and again repeated her requests to have the repairs made to their home. According to family lore, the issues were taken care of the next day.
Some people candy-coat a history, glossing over the weird or over-the top-stuff. In this case, it seemed wrong to exclude my grandmother’s defiant determination. I’m not advocating that any of her posterity go to such lengths to get results. Using a gun is not the preferred method. To me, the story bespeaks an unwavering resolve to take care of business. She had grit.
I’ll never be a Sarah Gerard writer, but I too have stories to tell. So do you, and neither of us should let the anxiety about not being good enough keep us from sharing family stories.
*I accidentally ordered two copies, and if you want to help me proofread….
**Some versions report her as inviting him to dinner and bringing out the pistol after dessert.