Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

15 October 2007

My amazing life, remembered by my grandchildren

The morning after the day I die, my grandchildren will gather in my house. They will gather in my kitchen and drink tea from colorful, mismatched cups accumulated over years, using the leaves left in bright ceramic pots. Someone will have brought coffee, and mixed cinnamon in the grounds the way I will have for him when he used to for him whenever he visited. Sun will stream through the windows; there will be no tears on this morning. My grandchildren will have visited me in my home often, and each will drink from their own "special" cup, the cup that he or she has always drunk from when visiting. They will gather in the kitchen, some at the table, some on the floor, some on chairs pulled in from the dining room. My grandchildren will be many. Once they are settled, once they have their drinks, someone, the wife of my eldest grandson, perhaps, will begin: "She had such an amazing life..." There will be no regrets: no one will say, "I only wish I would have known her better." They all will have gotten to know me, and I them. Old photos will be brought to the table; stories will be recalled and recounted, stories that I will have told them, stories that Rasheed will have told them; and many stories that my mother will have told my children, their parents, who will have then passed on to them.

They will recall a story my mother told her grandchildren when they first learned to ride bikes: she will tell them the story of their mother and her little yellow tricycle, which she raced over and over again all the way down the long hill of her parents' nursery, only waiting for her mother, by then 8 months pregnant with the son who would become Daniel, then Danny, then Dan, and finally, "Lil' Bro,'" to come and carry it back uphill, and she would race it down again. Until one day, when the front wheel of the little bike got caught, perhaps a stone or a rut, and its rider, who could have only be just over 2 years old, went flying over its handlebars and face-first into the dirt. My mother, of course, started down the hill - until her daughter, to the horror of Ben, an employee of the nursery working nearby, stood up, stood her tricycle back upright, mounted again, and rode it at full speed down the rest of the hill! When she reached me, my mother understood the look of horror on Ben's face: my own was covered in dirt. She will tell the story to my own children when they learn to ride, and they will laugh at their silly mother, but when the time comes, they, too, will tell the story to their own children. And on this morning, my grandchildren will laugh at their silly grandmother. Someone will add between breaths: "Oh, she was so stubborn! Such determination."

This word will render the room silent, each occupant surrendering to his or her own memory. My youngest granddaughter will stand, wander the room, opening and closing cabinets, drawers, looking through my things. She will touch the tips of my knife set - "She always took such good care to keep them sharp..." - my tea kettle - "green tea, every day" - and she will open a drawer of utensils, take out an old wooden spoon, still smooth, carved from an olive tree. "Paris," she will say to the room, holding it out to Daniel, named after his father, in turn named after their great-uncle their grandmother's brother. Daniel is the cook in the bunch; and all will know that the spoon with all of my recipes was meant for him. "They got it on the first trip together to Paris," the room will recall. "It was her birthday. She had just finished two term papers at SUssex, come home that night and thrown a party - they packed the next morning and ran to the train station - theirs was delayed, anyway." They will laugh. Remember: "he brought her a croissant and orange juice every morning in bed while they were there. How they loved..." They will recall my travels, beginning with the move to London - "She was so young...only, what? 22? 23?" They will decide on 22. "Leaving everything she knew behind for him. So brave."

"Yes, she was." They will repeat. Their grandmother, who fought a brain tumor at the age of 20 and its recurrence at the age of 24 - during college; during her first year in a PhD program. "So brave." They will repeat, not with sadness, but with the fullness like that which comes from having eaten a good meal, a nutritious meal, a deep-seated joy in the life of their grandmother.

She lived in London and Brighton and California, saw Paris, Budapest...and later, Ireland, Istanbul, India, Africa, Japan, Canada. And so many more. They will go through my rooms, dividing among themselves the pieces from these places. They will not know it until days later, but in these pieces, their grandmother will have tucked little notes, scraps - written memories not yet divulged of these travels. Last will have been one more trip to London, a visit to see friends, and to see the places that were friends themselves. Oxfam and Apostrophe were gone, they recall, but not the building at 69-71 Queensborough Terrace. "But she could not bear to go in," a granddaughter will recall from our last conversation over tea, "she could not bear to see it changed. It will be, to her, always their first home, full of books, tea-stains on the arms of the couch - all her doing, of course."

They will roam my house, thumbing through my books. They will come to, tucked away in the bottom corner of a shelf, those written by their grandmother herself. They will pull them out: all will know who has read them, and who not (the younger grandchildren, who will look sheepishly at their shoes). Laughing, understanding, the elder will distribute them amongst the younger. Their names will be inscribed in the early pages, in the plot itself sometimes. They will study my picture in the back jacket leaf, my picture, together with Rasheed, high above the noise of the streets on our plant-filled balcony, progressively older with each subsequent book, but invariably happy, at peace. "How they loved..." My grandchildren will repeat, murmuring, fingers pressed against the picture.

Finally, they will find my first pair of dance shoes. They will still fit. "A dancer up 'til her last days," one of my grandsons will smile. Dancing everywhere she lived, and starting groups where she could not find them. "A dancing spirit, a dancing soul, she always said she had," my granddaughter whom I taught to dance will say. New dancing shoes for every birthday - she wore them out as quickly as I. They will burn me in my first pair of shoes at the crematorium; I will dance with them at the wake. Each grandchild will take a portion of my ashes to a place where I have lived, and in this way, my grandchildren will never be alone in the world, regardless of where they go. "What an amazing life she led," they will breathe, letting my dust go on the wind, into the sea, into rivers. "How she loved."