Saturday, November 11, 2006

Flo

I remember standing on Magazine Street in New Olreans as float after float passed by. My grandparents were supposed to be on one of these floats, but I hadn't found them yet. After what seemed to be forever, the last float trundled towards me; there she was! I waved and ran into the street. As I reached the float, a masked woman reached down and handed me a brown-paper-wrapped package. When I opened it, I found, to my delight, a dozen glass-bead necklaces. These weren't the cheap, plastic beads that people fought to catch; these were the kind of beads that would shatter if they hit the ground. My grandmother saved them for me, just for me.


*****
I can't believe this. My first public poetry reading is scheduled the day of her funeral. I'm the only person in my family who can't go--not because of the reading, but because everyone else is going and I have no one to take care of my son. I am heartbroken; I am bereft. I can't say goodbye to my grandmother because I don't have a babysitter.
*****
My sister and I spent a summer with my grandparents. My grandfather was sick, too sick to work. My uncles were still running the shop, putting up gutters and new roofs on houses, so his business was still operating. My grandmother was going to cosmetology school, trying to learn to be a beautician. She was having a hard time; she had never had to work before, and she was afraid because her husband was going to die. He knew it; she knew it. My sister and I, though, didn't know it.
*****
I think maybe the illness came later. I don't remember, really. I do remember riding the train back to Shreveport with my grandmother; her first husband, my other grandfather, worked for the T&P Railroad, so we could ride the train free.
*****
Sometimes, I dream about my grandmother. I dream that she and I are sitting in her apartment kitchen, the apartment she lived in at the time of her death. A row of beer cans are ranged in front of her; she is smoking and her hair is in curlers. That yappy little Chihuahua, Sassy, is sitting on her lap. I hated that dog, and I know it hated me. Whenever I visited my grandmother, I would sleep with her in her bed and the dog would be banished to the bathroom. I understand why the dog hated me, but it wasn't my fault. I don't mind dreaming about my grandmother, but I wish the dog wasn't with us.
*****
When I divorced, I felt a special kinship with Flo. After all, she was the only other person in my family who was divorced. I felt it was one of our special bonds. She liked my ex-husband (well, so did my family), but she understood. Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do.
*****
I remember one of her poker parties. The special dessert that night was a half of a cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the hollow where the seeds used to be. It's still one of my favorite treats.
*****
Her complete name when she died was Florence Albertine Augustine Kurz Twohig Schubert. Her friends called her "Flo." She hated her two middle names. The last three names encompass a huge cross-section of my family history.
*****
I know why my mother disliked my grandmother. Flo was my father's mother--that's the "Twohig" in Flo's name. But, when Flo divorced my Grandpa Twohig, she married my mother's father, Grandpa Schubert, whose wife had died in childbirth. Sounds incestuous, but it's really not. My mom and dad were teenagers, and it wasn't likely that Flo would have more children. So, I guess you could say my mom and dad are step-sister and -brother, but, again, it didn't really matter by then. Flo and my Grandpa Schubert were childhood sweethearts. The story I heard was that her parents wanted her to marry someone who wasn't a day laborer. My Grandpa Twohig worked for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, so he was "white" collar. I think my grandmother married him just to get away from her mother, who was a tyrant. But my great-grandmother is another story.
*****
After my grandmother's funeral, the women went to her apartment to divide her possessions. My mother had asked me, before she left for New Orleans, if I wanted something in particular. I did. My grandmother had a collection of porcelain, and that collection included an old Chinese man and woman. The man held a fishing pole; the woman held a teapot. I loved those pieces. When my mother came back home, she brought me, instead, a porcelain boy and girl and a scarf. My aunt, my grandmother's daughter, claimed the man and woman. I was glad to get anything that belonged to Flo.
*****
Over the years, my mother has surprised me with other possessions of my grandmother's. She has given me two rose pins and the last strand of glass Mardi Gras beads my grandmother had. When I started collecting bee pins, my mother came out with a silver bee that was Flo's. Who knew that my mother would withhold those things for me?
*****
I think my grandmother is trying to let me know she's here, haunting me. The cats have broken the boy doll twice; the silver bee pin has disappeared, as has the scarf. I'm beginning to feel like the little boy in The Sixth Sense, except I don't see dead people. I just know my grandmother is around me, watching, just waiting for the right moment to show herself to me.

2 comments:

saltnmw said...

Seems we both have been reminiscing of loved ones (see my recent post). My family has had 8 deaths in the last five years! Add to that score friends....I'm beginning to feel I know more people in heaven. Must be another telltale sign of age!

realism said...

Bee pins. I've never seen you wear one. I'm not one to collect anything, except for Martha Stewart magazines that I keep on the bookcase in the living room. I keep thinking that one day I will pull one of the shelf and craft something, but I never do.
I actually saw a craft "receipe" for a pine-cone-wreath-thingy that I thought was pretty. So, I collected all the pine cones in my yard for several months and stored them in the garage. After growing tired of sweeping around the box and running out space because of other things I banished to the garage, I threw the pine cones away.