I am slowly going through Elizabeth’s writing, wanting to share more here, as I know she wanted to share her work with the world. It’s a way for me to know that she was real, that she existed, to keep her spirit fed and nurtured, though it’s also painful for me. This one she wrote for a Kino High School assignment, a “reflective essay”. She wrote about her grandmother, my mother. They were very close and she was one of the few people who Elizabeth trusted and relied on for support. She was 16 when she wrote this, always insightful and thoughtful, and in a phase of irritation with most of the adults in her life, including her grandmother…
Three Years Later
by Elizabeth (Meagher) Blue
“I did not go back to work until three years later.”
She looks across the table at me, starkly, her eyes lock mine. It is as if she is trying to communicate something bigger to me than language can possess.
Needingly, my eyes grab hers, searching, almost pulling, trying to lock her into some journey I am set on undertaking. I am searching, trying to find the time and space between the words, between the stories. The time and the space between the work and the cooking and the raising the children and the caring for the husband and the surviving, I am trying to see what the time and space between the hours were like and I guess I am trying to lift the veils, trying to see what life was like for her.
Our eyes locked across the table as people around us talk and eat — I think how we are trying to find each other. The genetic thread through which we are somehow linked, I think we are trying to know each other and communicate a feeling of tribal humanity. To know a connection deeper, more substantional than words, something we can feel, as all I feel now is the cold scraping of metal chairs as we slide back and forth gesturing to each other through our posture. Perhaps if we gesture enough we might accumulate at least a sense of knowing one another’s bodies.
Mother of my Mother, womb of my womb and we are trying to see each other as people. Unconditionally, what we are trying to recognize is a bond of love and the connections we associate with it. I am trying to see how her love is my love, her flesh is my flesh, her life is my life, that I am her and she is me. I am trying to see emotion and connection stronger than a cut umbilical cord.
This is my Grandmother and for perhaps the first time I am trying to see her as a person as she tells me how my Grandfather, the love of her life, entered university at junior year at the age of 15. I am trying to see her when I ask, “Why did you love him?”
“I really don’t know.” She is sweeping crumbs from the table with her hand into a neat little pile. “Why does anybody fall in love?” She laughs again. “I don’t know if I had ever been in love before. I had an older boyfriend before him, when I was in high school and he was in college. He was a very passionate man, in the end however he turned out to be much too childish. But Bobby, your Grandfather, I just fell in love with him.” She gazes out a window thoughtfully and I note that this may be the softest I’ve ever seen her. She did really love him, and there was not question.
“He was very smart,” I prompt her wanting to know more than how smart he was. I want to know things like how did he feel when you rested against him under his arm? How did he take his tea, with milk like you? with sugar? Both? Neither like me? Did he read the paper everyday? What did he sound like when he laughed? What kind of people did he like best? How would he have loved me? I don’t want to know how smart he was, I want to know about his humanity. I want to know him as a person, as I want to learn about her as a person, maybe I want to learn her enough for the both of them. I want a Grandfather with stories of youth grown old. I don’t want to hear how smart he was.
“Oh yes very smart. Probably the smartest person I have ever met.” She ticks off his on-paper accomplishments, “University of Chicago, graduated in two years with honors. He was on the tennis, football and riflery teams. After he wanted to go to law school but no one would take him because he was so young, so he went to Dartmouth for a masters in business instead. After that he wanted to become a lawyer still so he went to Harvard and graduated top of his class.”
I look her in the eye, nodding, not wanting to miss a beat. I wonder what she is trying to communicate by repeating all this information I already know, and I think it has something to do with legacy.
Somewhere between the years I know they met in Italy when they both spent a summer abroad, somewhere between the years my Grandmother fell in love for perhaps the first time. Somewhere between the years she became a wife and he became a husband, somewhere between the years he became a lawyer, she became a college graduate and took a job working under the head of the African studies department at Boston University. Somewhere between the years my mother’s life began and somewhere between the years his illness became much worse.
Sitting here looking at my Grandmother, with her, I eat my chocolate cake and she finishes her salad and I observe how different we are.
She possesses a certain quickness to her small body, at 67 she does not look her age and prides herself on getting carded for a senior discount. She is, as usual, dressed in black with perhaps a bit of gray trim showing for her socks or sweater. This constant state of dress makes me wonder if she ever truly stopped mourning my Grandfather. Her hair, short and silver gray, clings close to her head. Her eyes are green gray hazel and narrow when confused or pretending to be. (I have learned to look away when she does this or find myself babbling to try to answer an unspoken question which she can always back out of.)
She is always doing something — a quality I find increasingly annoying as we spend more and more time together. Though over time I realize that it is not so much this constant need to do something which bothers me, as much as her constant need to try to make me be always doing something. This nagging at the back of my mind which she vocalized telling me that I am unworthy of rest, that there is always more to do, more to see and not constantly doing or seeing such things equates laziness. A most abominishal quality.
She reminds me of the quick short black lines she loves in art so — quick, definite, to the point. Always suggesting movement. Never resting for a minute’s peace of ‘look where we are, how wonderful, how glorious, how blessed we are to experience this!’ But constantly wanting to see what is just around the corner of a bendy pass. (I begin to wonder if this is not a defense technique always wanting to see what might be coming.) After a while I find it intolerable to walk or do almost anything with her.
If when I think of her I think of quick, sharp, black, lines, when I think of myself I think of drapery, of rich soft velvety antique sofas. Of meandering circles, or pearls hanging from ivory carved light fixtures. I think of green fields and white lace dresses under the shade of willow trees having tea parties on bone china with scones and biscuits, soft butter and sweet jam. I think of a soft buddha, monks in red dress bowing to a deity 30 times their size. And I don’t know how to relate to her lines of movement.
This is why I am trying to see the connection through love. Trying to see how we are both human, both women, both feel.
I try to imagine what it was like for her when he died. All I’ve ever heard her say specifically was overwhelming. He left her with my mother at age three and the second baby which she so desperately felt she needed — my aunt, not yet walking. I try to imagine and try to imagine and yet what repeats in my head is, “I didn’t go back to work until three years later.” This woman who is constant lines of movement to me was unable to go out in the world doing and seeing things until three years later. Her passion for life was put to rest alongside grief for my Grandfathers death. She gave herself over to the wolves, to the children, to the taking care of the remains of a life so hopefully started. She of quick lines gave over — sacrificed — her womanhood, her interests, her movement to live to stay alive and to survive. And I wonder, if perhaps this is not the legacy she has meant to pass on. Whisper in the wind, “I did not go back to work until three years later, but you, young one, can.”