Some time after midnight, the night of a scorching day. The air feels heavy and moist against my skin. It smells of ozone, of pale rye fields and fields of golden wheat, of grass and moon and of electricity. I read of JJ Cale’s death today and I’m listening to his music on my headphones out there in the dark, in the garden, with the moon rising white and silent between the firs. Its light casts my shadow on the garden wall, a black ghost woman in a swirling, twirling dress, arms above her head, hips moving in a rhythm as old as time, as fresh as each breath of air.
She dips and sways, she rocks and jumps. She’s going crazy in a frenzy of summer, seduction and sadness. I want to be her, even as I realize that I am. Her stark profile as she dances in the moonlight to music only she can hear stays with me as I return to the safety of the sleeping house.
Every Wednesday noon, one of the family meets my grandmother at her physiotherapist to drive her and all her grocery shopping home. Sometimes she’s in a hurry because she’s got some social engagement scheduled for the afternoon. Sometimes we invite her over for lunch. Sometimes she just wants someone to chat with for a while. Today it was the latter, so I stayed a while and she told me of another visit at the old people’s home where she goes regularly. It’s the place where a lot of her classmates, friends and acquaintances now live and it’s just down the hill from her house, so she often goes to visit there and to help out. She knows all the nurses and she knows they are chronically short on time.
I know all this, none of it is new to me. I know the stories, I know a lot of the people she talks about, at least I can remember them from when I was a kid. I know that she is very practical and kind in her assistance to her friends, I know the stories.
And yet, today, as we sat in her formally-comfortable living room at midday, with the grey sky outside and the heating on, I looked at her and it all felt new to me. I saw that her body was old, so much older than I remembered. I saw that she can’t see or hear as well as she used to. And I listened as she told me in her matter-of-fact way of the friend whose sight is failing and who she bullies to be as independent as she can be despite her insecurity over not seeing, and who she indulges in all those instances where indulgence is harmless. I listened as she told me how she helped another friend to change her trousers and discovered that she hadn’t made it to the bathroom in time and how she dealt with it in her calm, practical way. And I realized that I was sitting at a table with a heroine and suddenly I felt like bursting into tears.
And so, I’m dedicating this post and these thoughts to my grandmother, who is by no means a saint, who exasperates me regularly, and who is the coolest, strongest, toughest, kindest octogenarian I know. Who goes out of her way to help old friends. Who volunteers once a week at a charity shop. Who works as a volunteer in the church community, visiting elderly folks on their birthdays. Who loves to travel and has gone off to travel places like Alaska, South Africa, Peru in the last ten years alone. Who once threw out a very close friend, because that friend thought her social visit was more important than a promise that my grandmother had made to her four-year-old granddaughter that she could stay the night at her place, which the friendship didn’t survive and which she’s never regretted. Who played tricks on her teachers as a schoolgirl, who worked as a nurse throughout the war and the falling bombs, who fell in love with my grandfather at first sight, who, years later, had to be tricked in her turn by my grandfather into trying her very first pair of trousers, who prefers spending her money on her nine grandchildren than keeping it “safe”, who watches the news and reads and is well-informed and goes to the theatre and the opera and concerts and who always let me lick out the bowl when we baked cookies.