“Have I told you the story about the time my mother was pregnant with Uncle Dan?” I look into my grandma’s blue eyes. I vary the answer every time, even though it’s always basically the same. “Yes, you just told me yesterday Grandma,” if I’m out of patience; “I think so Grandma but remind me again?” if I’m being kind. Today I simply say, “No.” And so she answers. What is so crazy about it is not how many times a day or week she’ll tell you the same thing, but how the words never change; it’s as if she’s reading from a script: “Well you know they didn’t talk about it in those days. And so when my father told me my mother was at the hospital, I asked ‘Why?’ And he said ‘You’re going to have a baby brother.’ ‘A baby brother?’ I asked. ‘But I don’t want a baby brother!’ Can you imagine, Amy? I didn’t even know she was pregnant. They just didn’t talk about it in those days.” “Wow, Grandma, that’s crazy!” I say, trying to put some emotion into it but hearing the monotone-quality of my voice. If I counted all the times I’ve heard this story, it would be in the thousands.
The thing about it is, she’s a really good story teller. My sweet grandma goes on and on about everyone else’s talents: How smart we all are, and how good we are in school and at sports–and lately she’s been saying she wasn’t ever very good at anything (besides Bridge). But what she was always good at, I realize, was telling stories. They’re rich with detail and they have all the elements of great storytelling: gossip and intrigue and surprise. And she lights up when telling them. I know I need to write down her stories rather than roll my eyes at them. How her dad owned a grocery store in West Virginia and gave people a break during the Great Depression so they could get by. How much she wanted a little girl, and how her doctor told her when she got pregnant with my mom that he was sure it would be a boy, and that he was never wrong. And not only that, but I need to ask her more questions. Where was she that day in December when Pearl Harbor was bombed? And what was it like watching my mom meet and marry my dad? How does it feel to have made this family, and to watch us grow?
I came across these photos of my grandma the other day. She’s about 4 or 5 years old in the first one, on her grandpa’s farm in West Virginia. And I love that second one; how they would all gather around and take a picture at a party–it was probably an event. She’s sitting in the center. (And not to start any rumors, but that man whose legs my grandma is sitting between? Not my grandpa.)