A Stupid Place

Gram at 70.

Gram at 70.

A Stupid Place

A stupid place to put it,
she says, winding into another rant
about a ceiling fan at the wrong end of the room.
She sits and twists the ring on her finger,
and wonders why she is here.

Because she used to have a house.
Now she has too much furniture,
and a life packed in cardboard boxes,
honey-combed walls wilted by
the heat of how many summers?

Moments flicker and play out
in silent testimony to what came before
this place, this stupid place.
At the window, a curtain lifts like an apparition
in a breeze too flabby to last.

She turns her head and waits for
the next riffle of wind,
for the days that gather and roll
like dust bunnies beneath her bed,
while she sits and twists the ring on her finger

and her mind meanders in a space
too narrow for contentment,
a labyrinth of thoughts
that twists and turns upon itself
crossing the same trail, the same words,

A stupid place to put it, she says.
I don’t know why I’m here.

~~  Mary Pierce, 1995


The woman in the photo is my grandmother, Pearl Crawford Pierce.  She was seventy when the photo was taken, her hair color still hers and not from a box.  She cut her hair herself.  My grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years by then.  In those years, she had learned to drive a car and shop for herself, two things that my grandfather had always done.  She also got a job at the local paper mill, worked for a while, retired, and found a sense of satisfaction selling Avon products because it got her out of her house.  She had style and a snazzy Mustang by then.

A few years after this photo was taken she was mugged on her own front porch.  She stopped selling Avon and was reluctant to go outside.  A couple of years after that, in one of the infrequent times she did leave her house, her car skidded on an icy road and she hit a bank.  The kind you keep your money in.  She broke her jaw and her hip and cracked some ribs.  Eventually, she healed.  Physically.

By the time I wrote the poem, she had given up her house to a daughter and moved to a small one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized development.  Her short-term memory had moved somewhere else.  It clearly was no longer residing with her.  I wrote the poem after a visit.  That year I made many visits, driving from my home in Rhode Island to her stupid place in northern New York with a six-year-old in tow, trying desperately to find a way to keep her in her apartment and out of a nursing home.  Physically, in spite of her run-in with the bank, she was strong and relatively healthy, the one glitch being that she had developed high enough blood pressure to necessitate her taking daily medication.  Which, of course, she could never remember to do.

Twenty years and five months after the photo was taken Gram died in a nursing home after she fell out of bed in the middle of the night.  Had she known what was happening, she would have laughed at what a ridiculous way to go that was.  A few years before that, on one of my visits, she asked me to take her to the area she had been born.  We ended up at the cemetery where her parents and her baby brother, Rosco were all buried.  It was one of those lovely large cemeteries with mature trees and undulating hills, a place with a good view, she said.  We didn’t make it to the Crawford family plot because in our traipsing about, she lost her balance on the spongy ground and rolled down a hill before I could grab her.  When I caught up to her, she was unhurt and doubled over in laughter.  “Well, if I died here, at least I wouldn’t have far to go,” she managed to choke out.  And we both laughed like hell because the whole thing was hilarious, and what else was there to do?  Life is hard.  Sometimes, we end up in a stupid place.

I chart my grandmother’s journey in words and pictures because that is the best way I know to remember who she was.  To me, at any rate.  Others may remember someone else.  Despite the poem, despite the place she ultimately found herself in, it wasn’t the whole story.  I knew her as a woman of passion, of strength and the courage to guide me past a bear.  (Yes, a real bear.  A story for another time.)  But, she was also something more.  Scroll back up to that photo and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s there in her eyes.  Those are the eyes of someone who has always known how to dream.  An asset, because dreams will get you where you need to go.

No matter what place you happen to be.

27 thoughts on “A Stupid Place

  1. Yes, I hope I die quickly (heart attack, maybe) and never end up in that stupid place. Unfortunately, it happens to too many old people, and it can be almost more devastating for the children than for the object. Great essay and another fine poem, Mary!

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    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you stick around for some time longer without ever being in a stupid place. Personally, that’s what I’m aiming for. Somehow, though, given the strength and tenacity of your will, I cannot imagine you will ever find yourself in a stupid place for long. You are an inspiration, Lorinda.

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    • I’m glad it made you smile. I was smiling when I wrote it, remembering the absurdity of the situation. She did end up with a sizeable bruise on her leg, which I had to explain when I returned her to the nursing home. We had quite a laugh on the way back making up stories we were going to give the staff.

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  2. Someone who knows how to dream becomes more precious as the years roll by. What a wonderful story, especially the part about laughing after rolling down a hill. You were lucky to have such a grandmother.

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    • I was very lucky to have her. She was the one person in my early life who always encouraged my dreams. And we did have a lot of laughs together. Plus, she taught me to drive using her Mustang, which was the coolest thing ever.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderful grandmother, and wonderful grandchild. You have made her so alive for all of us lucky readers – and I see that she is very much alive for you. No wonder you are who you are. And I love your understanding of who she was. Thank you for letting us know her.

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    • One of the nicest things about blogging for me is having you read my posts. Your comments are always lovely and warm, and mean the world to me because I have always admired you so. So, thank you, Ronnie. Thank you so very much.

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    • Sujatha,

      Is the piece you’d like me to read your latest post? I will be happy to read it a little later today, after I’ve finished some other things I need to do. And thank you for the kindness to my own writing.

      Mary

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      • hi Mary for some reason I did not see your response til now??? weird. Hope you are well. Hope you get a chance to read the story About Love or my new post which is an essay. Thanks so much

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    • Thanks, Jenny. She really was fascinating, kind, and funny. But she was also complicated. I should write more about her . . . one day, I shall. We do have a certain resemblance, I look a lot like my father (her son). I have another sister who resembles her a lot more than I do, but they were never very close. Funny, how that goes.

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  4. Beautiful, simply beautiful. I started reading this post yesterday and didn’t finish. It deserved a second read, a more complete read. Your grandmother lived a long life and it’s wonderful to read how she lived, and sad how she passed. I think of my dad and B’s (my wife) parents and how they passed and are spending their final years. I enjoyed reading your story (and all of your stories, for that matter) – they push me from my stupid place. Thank you.

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    • Oh, thank you, Clay. That’s so kind of you to say.

      It was sad, and frustrating for her towards the end. The good thing about the kind of dementia she suffered, though, was that it affected only her short-term memory. She always knew who I was and could remember almost everything about her past, so that is how we spent our time together in her last years, talking about the past. She was a wealth of information about what it was like to live through the depression and a World War. She never learned to swim because it was considered unseemly for girls to do that. Can you imagine?

      As always, thanks for reading.

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  5. This choked me from top to bottom in the best way possible.
    My grandma was on my mind all weekend, too – you must have been channeling yours and sending vibes my way. I couldn’t get her out of my head!
    This was a gorgeous tribute that smacks of reality, love, and irony all in one space – a lovely, not-ever-stupid place.
    You are Mary Oliver and Anne Lamott all tied up in one and I feel soooo lucky to call you a friend.
    More please – your writing soothes and inspires me! xo

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    • Thanks, John. I’m having the same wonky issues with WordPress though I’ve noticed that the ability to “like” a post depends on which browser I use. The lack of “like” and “share” buttons seems only to happen if I’m using Chrome on my PC. If I’m on my Mac laptop I’m good in any browser.

      I appreciate all the more your effort to let me know that you “liked” my post.

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