A Fierce Memory

a-fierce-memory-2

All seven of us squeezed in around the large table, adorned with traditional white linens and a vase of fresh flowers. We stared wide-eyed, slightly self-conscious over the abundance of food, but ready to indulge ourselves anyway. Electric ceiling fans whirred overhead, not adequate to cool the space filled with warming pans and electric griddles. The food was as thick and heavy as the air. Beads of sweat formed around our water glasses and at the napes of our necks. Patches of innocent red swelled on our cheeks. This was brunch in the South–heavy, full, and luxurious.

Eager to find a cool breeze, my oldest son scarfed down his pancakes with fresh whipped cream and escaped to the open air of the courtyard patio. The other two followed shortly, after a quick scan of their plates to confirm that there was no noodle left behind of the white cheddar macaroni and cheese.

 

Meanwhile, Duane and I enjoyed conversation with a good friend while we sipped coffee and savored spoonfuls of butterscotch pudding, slowly sliding spoons against the curves of glass to get every last bite.  During our conversation over empty plates, the kids’ frolics in the courtyard caught my attention.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them follow trails of brick walls on the patio, counting bricks with their feet. They stepped over cracks, whirled around wrought-iron light posts, and climbed over benches. In that moment, as if in a sleepy dream, I saw hazy pictures of myself as a little girl in my Easter dress, bouncing around under the hot Texas sun. My grandmother used to take our family to a restaurant with an open brick patio every year for Easter brunch.

After that, I couldn’t get my grandmother out of my mind.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

Nonny died almost ten years ago. The day I spoke at her funeral, the images of her and her house–those details that absorb into your childhood and squeeze out indelible memories–flowed out of me like poetry.

 

grandmother, granddaughter

^^^What a chunky monkey! ^^^

Nonny was not a typical grandmother. She weighed 108 pounds and wanted the rest of the females in her family to follow suit. She never gave us cookies or ice cream; instead she welcomed us to heaping piles of red grapes dressed up in a scalloped bowl. I remember having many conversations around that bowl of grapes on the glossy, glass-topped table, probably while dreaming of cookies.  If I ever wanted one, I had to sneak into the pantry and search for the well-hidden tin to get my fill of fat, sugar, and salt.

 

She had a hot pink, plush arm chair in the living room that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. It didn’t go with anything in the room, but it still fit. She had a knack for making different pieces look like they belonged together (not handed down, by the way). My dad and I played countless hours of rummy–me in the pink chair and my dad, like the gentleman that he is, across from me in a folding chair.

Nonny had the best laugh (which WAS handed down). Hers was a jovial, sophisticated chuckle, while mine is more of a vehement guffaw. She especially chuckled at me when I probed  the stretchy skin that hung on her 80-year-old arms. She never scolded me, she just looked down into my eyes and responded playfully: “Ha. Ha. Ha. You think that’s so funny.”

She was the best-smelling grandmother ever. I realize that’s an odd category, but she smelled luxurious. She kept a litany of beauty products on top of a mirrored vanity. Sometimes I’d find my way into her room and crawl on top of the beige leather ottoman to sit in front of the mirror. I indulged myself in her Lancome face powder with the over-sized powder puff. I swooned over her collection of perfume bottles that sat on top of a brass tray, each with a different ornate top, like fancy art museum sculptures. But the jackpot was the drawer full of lipsticks. I remember opening the mint green tubes and inspecting each color. Each creamy cylinder was a varied shade of pink,only slightly used and perfectly shaped. It was almost as exciting as finding the cookie tin, deep in the pantry.

Story has it that I made a big ole mess of her vanity one day and she wasn’t too pleased. I don’t blame her. It’s hard work to look and smell that good.

^^^Isn't she sassy?^^^

^^^Isn’t she sassy?^^^

 

Her screened-in patio was the best. An astroturf  rug (really!) covered the smooth concrete floor.  The furniture matched–green cushions with a white and yellow floral pattern. The patio overlooked  thick spirals of green ivy that covered the backyard. Since the backyard was off-limits, I played on the stone wall that divided her driveway from the next door neighbor’s.

I spent countless hours walking back and forth on that wall, counting stones with my feet, stepping over cracks, climbing over it from one side to the other. Just like my kids did that sultry, southern day at brunch, when I felt like I was in a dream.

Memory is almost as mysterious as dreams. I’m not sure what triggered the flood of images of my grandmother that day. Was it the similarity of the restaurant’s brick patio, the thick summer air, or the feeling of full you get from a decadent meal? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that some memories are painful, but I don’t have many of those from Nonny’s house. These memories are fierce, luxurious and full–like a hot summer brunch in the South.

 

^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^

^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^

 

Here’s to you, Nonny.

 

And Babies Don't Keep
  • http://www.andbabiesdontkeep.com/ Kristi

    LOVE the photos. Little Julie is so cute! And thanks so much for sharing a powerful, mysterious memory. It’s an intimate, personal thing, but reading yours sent me back to some of my own memories of my grandmothers from when I was little. And it’s fun to hang out back there for a while.
    Thanks so much for linking up!

  • Brian Winkler

    Beautiful story and memories, Julie! Thx for sharing this! Wish I had such vivid memories of my own grandparents! Blessings.

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