Portrait on Eight Seventeen by Susannah S. Cecil

I remember the way she always stood to bid farewell, tipping her gaze up to look at the boys – so much taller than she. I remember the beauty of her flowers; the quiet care, her consistent, daily honoring of their needs, and how they returned her favors with glorious show. I remember the way she added, “honey” when addressing me, always at the end of a phrase, the dénouement, a soft punctuation sealing her emphasis.

 

When I try even now, I can hear her laughter, a rasp of breath in her throat, escaping the seal of her soft palate and back of her tongue. (It sometimes catches my ear through her son’s voice too, and it hiccups my attention with surprise.) And when she laughed, it was open-mouthed; delight more than sound bursting through cheeks drawn wide toward her ears, and eyes crinkled with mirth.

 

I remember the last time I saw her, standing in that space she so carefully, firmly cultivated. I can smell the ashen black silt beneath our feet, its almost-oily scent breaking free in gentle puffs as our shoes shifted, grinding summer heat back into the earth. She had to lift her gaze, even to me; and one more hug, then goodbye. Even now, if I close my eyes, I see her on that small parcel of partnership with God, waving, getting smaller as the distance between us lengthened. And if I were back there again, would we still drive away? Would I still turn my gaze so blithely toward my future, and never look back?

 

I miss her; have felt her niggling the edges of my attention lately. Am I supposed to unravel some delicate web of knowing, to gain some otherworldly insight? Maybe I’m simply supposed to enjoy her presence, and remember that today would have been her 104th birthday.

 

She comes to me sometimes in dream-swept sleep; and sometimes while I cultivate my own parcel of dirt and roots and hope. I’m not even sure why: if it’s because the cellulose in my hands has her fingerprints woven into the chlorophyll? Maybe it’s because, like she once told me herself, my awareness becomes blissfully suspended while I wrangle worries into the earth. Perhaps these moments open a window for her to ease temporal bounds and come closer, watch quietly, and to brush past as a soft breeze through her scapes. Or maybe it’s because she knows of my struggle to be this adult woman I’m supposed to be, that she approaches through our common femininity, with a depth of connection reaching beyond consciousness, traveling backwards along threads of lineage, calling forth that which stands resolute and powerful and sure. Her wisdom then becomes my wisdom, her strength arises as my strength. Her legacy transposes into my birthright, and I capture its reality with each glimpse. And then I can become. After all, I am her only granddaughter.

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