have i ever told you that my grandmother, paternal side, was a foot model? it’s true. it was either the 40s or the early 50s. hers were the feet you’d see in the catalogs of with fancy shoes. my father tells me that she had tons of them, sometimes getting to take home the shoes she’d worn for a photo shoot. best of all, she had a gigantic picture of her beautiful feet hanging over the fireplace. words can not describe for you how much i wish i had this photo. it was destroyed in an apartment fire long before i was ever so much as a glimmer in my father’s eyes, so it lives on now only in memories and story telling. somedays, more than anything, i wish i had inherited her feet.
i never knew her–not really. once when i was maybe 5, my father, my sister and i trekked from georgia to tampa florida. i remember the small cramped house, sharing the study, made into a makeshift bedroom with my father, shasta cola in different flavors and my sister’s leopard patterned bathing suit. my sister is 8 years older and we have different mothers, so she lived with her mom in boston most of the year. the summer’s were the greatest time because she’d come to visit and there was no brighter star in the sky than my big sister. and she swam in the ocean without the assistance of floaties on her arms and worn that leopard bathing suit and was, as far as i could tell, at the age of 13, the most perfect example of what humanity had to offer the world.
my grandmother was quiet. she must have been sweet to me. in the mail, on my birthday that year, she had sent me a double deck of playing cards with an orange and white cat lifting up its paw as the decoration for the backside. also inside the package was a small dimestore purse, black with plastic beads of red, yellow and blue. these are the only childhood material memories i have from her and though they are long gone, i can still see them clearly. years later my sister gave me a set of her rosary beads. she figured i’d know what to do with them. every time i move they find a new place in my home, never quite right, always seeking their niche. they are plastic and scented with a horrific permi-rose smell, and they live inside an octagonal plastic box containing an image of a 20somthing Mary.
a year or two later, she came to visit athens and stayed in our house and my father made spaghetti sauce that was too hot for her and her husband (her fifth and final husband) and it made her eyes water. she cried a lot, i think. my father still recalls with deep gratitude that my mother helped her dress, as grandmother’s dementia was pretty far gone by then and she would come out in states of undress, shirts on backwards and inside out. with the failure of my father’s spaghetti sauce, we ate at the china boat restaurant, which went on to become thai of athens. i hear that it has since closed.
in march of 1979, in the midst of weather reports saying snow would come to athens, my father, my mother and i traveled in our new, blue ford LTD to florida. i wore a hand-me-down dress all day and cried because i thought my father must be so sad to have his mother die. we stayed with his aunt rosatha, who was not used to children and did not allow me to play her piano because my fingers were likely to be sticky. at the funeral home there was an open casket which i thankfully do not remember.
when everyone else had left the graveside, her blue metal casket a top the mounds of red clay, the grave keeper tried to push us away. my father would have none of it. he would not leave until he threw dirt on his mother’s grave. and though i did not know what it meant, at his bidding, i followed his lead. the three of us stood there, watching the working men cover the sky-blue metal box, scoop after scoop, shovel after shovel. we were the last to leave the smell of turning earth.