“This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven.” – Rick Bragg
I used to imagine that my maternal grandparents lived in the house next door to my childhood home. Today, the house is the color of mocha and has a full porch in the front, but when I was growing up, it was a plain white house with a simple porch, and I was a little girl with a wraparound imagination. I never met either of my maternal grandparents, but I dreamed that if they had been alive, they lived next door.
My mom talked about my grandmother and her many talents, down to the way she could braid my mom’s hair. When I was elementary age through my preteen years, I used to imagine sitting on my grandparents’ floor and having my grandmother braid my hair into intricate French braids and fishtail braids.
As a teenager, I imagined walking next door during homework breaks or barging right in after school for a snack. Of course, in my fantasy land, my grandmother would have freshly baked bread or cookies. Something delicious would always be on the table. I envisioned her going on the shopping trips I took with my own mom to look for prom dresses and even the simple things we did like lunch and fun trips on Saturday afternoons.
When I graduated from college, I visited my grandmother’s grave and told her about my ambitions. I told her what I wanted to do with my life and I strived (still do) to make sure that I am making her proud.
I went back and told her about the wonderful guy that I’d met that would eventually become my husband. I wished she could meet my Paul and help my mom get me ready on my wedding day.
Today, I wish she were alive to see my children that are not yet born. I wish she were alive to play with them, to make them laugh, and to tell them the stories of her own youth. All the things that grandmothers are supposed to do with little ones.
A few years ago, my mom gave me several sets of photos of my grandparents. I have most of them safely tucked away in scrapbooks with acid free paper and photo safe glue.
My mom has told me, for as long as I can remember, that I look like her mother. And I’ve always agreed. But looking at those photos brought it front and center. I do.
When I look at myself, I see so much of my maternal grandmother. I have her chin, cheeks, and yes, even her feet! I could pass as a photo of her from the 1950s as me with a different hairstyle. She’s beautiful and gracious with a big, welcoming smile.
I take photographs seriously, and as I’ve written about many times, there are very few places in my home that don’t have a frame. I have a copy of my grandmother’s senior photo in my office, and my great-grandmother is on the wall leading downstairs. My mom is on my desk. All of these women have shaped who I am in various ways.
When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in the house next door, even if in my own dreams. Now that I’m an adult, they live in my house through photographs and the stories I know about them. And in that case, they were always there, all along, just as they should have been.
Written in celebration of inspirational women and Women’s History Month.