Remembering Beverly Jane, Prelude to a Series
(Remembering Beverly Jane)
This is Beverly Jane, my grandma. Whom I love. This photo was taken when she was in her 30’s, a rather revolutionary time in her life. Her boys were adolescents (she was married by fifteen, mother of two by nineteen). Her marriage was conflicted, though ultimately, she stayed in it until my grandpa died. Now, she is approaching 86. Though her small body is still trim and mostly healthy, her mind wanders, childlike and often confused, and frightened. She seems more frail, and more internal and silent, every time I see her.
For much of my life (I was born when she was 40), I knew Grandma as spunk and audacity, perfume and healthy loveliness. Dressing herself up, dressing us up (unless, of course, we were in her backyard wading pool; then, she laughed at—and took pictures of—our utter, little girl nakedness), teaching us little songs and good manners. Feeding us health food, cod liver oil, ice cream. Bossing my grandpa around, bossing us around–with meaningful (scathing) glances, a tart word. Laughing delightedly at how completely I fell for “Gone With The Wind” (I watched it with her on VHS at a Grandma sleepover; when it ended, I ran out of the room crying. Locked myself in her pristine bathroom, morosely regarded her sparkling collection of perfumes, thinking How Meaningless!–in the grander scheme of things).
Now, Beverly Jane is Forgetting.
The world has become a confusing, irrational place to her, and though she hasn’t quite lost the desire to argue with it, she is frightened by its inconsistencies. Her capacity to remember a minimalist routine is slipping. There was a time when her routine was endless: a morning jog, scripture study (or Thoreau), epic gardening, obsessive compulsive housecleaning, high energy (aka multilevel) marketing (her favorite aloe vera products), singing at her piano, marshaling my Grandpa. Now my mother writes everything down for her, from when to shower, to what not to do when she’s helping in the kitchen (because she still wants to help). She can remember details from long ago much better than she remembers today or yesterday (or especially, five minutes ago). I am grateful that she still remembers who I am, though she cannot quite remember most of the important (to me) details of my life.
She is arriving for a little visit at my house this evening. She lives with my parents (her two sons take turns caring for her—well, actually, her two daughters-in-law do most of the actual caring) and since they must travel for family business, they are bringing her with them, like a child…because she cannot be left alone (a fact that needs no more proof–houses left barely standing, frightening hospitalizations). But I get to keep her a couple of days while my parents travel on. I’m looking forward to it. Though I’m a little worried about entertaining her (she prefers, above all else, to watch old western TV shows; last time she was here, John Wayne–the obvious choice–bored her. She wanted Cheyenne Bodie, his BROAD shoulders). We will talk (as long as she can stand it), and I will record as many stories as she can remember.
Because I’m thinking that someone ought to remember, especially since she can’t.
I know I’m not alone in my wanting to hold onto both my own memories, and her more vintage ones. My siblings are interested (Leah has written things down), my dad and his brother sometimes nostalgic. While most of the people who knew Beverly when she was the child are gone, we were children when she was in the prime of her life, and we find (as we reminisce) that we have memories of our own. I used to take those memories for granted. But each time I see my grandma, the more precious those Beverly Jane memories are to me…perhaps because I can see how fleeting they are.
What (or whom) do you hope will be remembered?
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