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.