As much as my visits to see my grandparents in New Jersey planted the seed, it was my grandmother on my father’s side who nurtured the soil and inspired me to see the other side of the world.
Grandma and Grandpa H were one of those Edward Albee couples, constantly bickering and jabbing at one another, unless you could get them talking about one of their past or future vacations. Then the magic happened: their faces would light up, Grandma would share stories and photos, Grandpa would sometimes lean his head back and start humming or singing (he had substantial opera training), and it was enough to forget the George & Martha atmosphere just moments prior.
More than that, Grandma H was an overt influence in my love for Japan, where I would eventually spend three years of my young adult life. Grandma H’s family had temporarily moved to Kobe when she was a young girl, during which time her mother collected all sorts of souvenirs. So when they would visit us on Thanksgivings, she’d occasionally drop off a handful of them — fans, parasols — and eventually I inherited a closet full of kimonos and a stack of block prints to celebrate my upcoming work in Japan as an English teacher. I was fascinated that she had experienced such a different way of life, so very far away, and couldn’t wait to follow suit.
In lieu of a long reminiscence, here is the verse I wrote for her memorial a couple of years ago. Thank you, Grandma, for everything.
Something strange happens With time gone by And your brain bends and your thoughts melt Around the edges of platforms you used to stand on And music you used to hear And lights that used to make you squint Something sad happens With losing someone you love With saying goodbye to someone who Changed you Altered you Pushed you Scared you Awed you Inspired you Something sweet happens With dressing like cats In ears, nose, and whiskers With playing with paint With soap operas and Law & Order And puzzles and crosswords and hearts Something inspiring happens With kimonos and paper parasols With a glorious ebony black sweet songstress piano With reflections on theatre and the art of performance With sucking the marrow out of exploring the world And savoring every taste of every morsel With daring to dress in bright patterns and colors Something grand happens Something real and true and eternal happens Watching you boldly make your entrances Onto the scenes of every part of your life And then quietly make your exit As though each exit is simply an entrance somewhere else Which is something that happens