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.

Have you seen my mother?

If you see her, let me know.  There's no money in it for you.  Just knowing you brought me peace of mind is reward enough, right?

I love my mother, but to tell you the truth, I have difficulty keeping track of her.  It’s embarrassing.  Sometimes someone will ask, where’s your mom these days?  To which I often have to answer – I have no idea.  In my defense, she’s a bit of a gad-about.  The Secret Service would be hard-pressed to know where she is all of the time.

For the last several years she has divided her time between a house in Sun Lakes, Arizona, a house in Schenectady, New York, and staying with friends in Akwesasne, the Mohawk reserve that straddles the border of northern New York and Canada, which is where she was born.

For awhile I had four different phone numbers for her on my speed dial, and there have been times when I couldn’t reach her at any of them.  This past spring she sold the Arizona house.  Then my brother took over the Schenectady house, and a couple of weeks ago she settled into a lovely apartment at Akwesasne, on the banks of the St. Lawrence river.  I haven’t heard from or seen her since.

Her schedule is complicated.  On Thursday evenings she goes to someone’s house to play radio Bingo.  Her paramour plays on a horseshoe team and there is always a game going on somewhere.   She is his cheerleader.  Sometimes they have away games.  There are meals out a lot, and until her internet is connected she has to go to the library to check her email.  She has 30 minutes on the library computer and she has a lot of friends.  If there’s a casino nearby she might be there.

Do me a favor and keep an eye out for her:  She is short.  She has nice hair and often wears a ball cap.  (She has a well-shaped head and looks good in caps, which is not a physical trait that she passed on to me.  More’s the pity.) Also, she might be standing on one leg, stork-like, one foot pressed against her thigh.  (She’s taken yoga classes for years, and this pose is good for her balance.  She does it well.  And often.  It must work, because I have never seen her fall over.)

If there is music playing she is apt to be dancing.  (She does a mean jig.)  Or she might be somewhere drinking coffee and staring out a window, deep in thought. She drinks her coffee black, and likes to daydream about solving the problems she thinks her kids have.  (It should be noted that though her kids are middle-age now, in her mind they are still kids.  This may be true for a lot of mothers.)

She answers to various names.  Mom, Mumma, Ista (the Mohawk word for Mother), Tota (pronounced, Du-Da, which means Grandmother in Mohawk), or her given name, Dolores.  Or just whistle.  That works, too.  She is usually friendly and approachable, so don’t be afraid to go right up to her and tell her her daughter is looking for her.  (Unless she thinks you might be trying to sell her something.  Then she will tell you to go to hell.  She is no pushover, my mother.)

If you see her, let me know. There’s no money in it for you, but knowing you   brought me peace of mind is reward enough, right?

Thank you for your help, y’all.  Have a nice day.

P.S.  Here’s your story, Mom.  Now pick up a damn phone and call me.

P.P.S.  I love you.

Off to see the wizard . . . .

In a few minutes my husband and I are leaving to catch a train to New York.  Not sure what we’ll find when we get there in terms of how the city is faring two weeks post Sandy.  The trip has been planned since the week before Sandy and was always going to be an adventure anyway.  Tomorrow, bright and early (probably too early for me, but I’m up to the task for this), we’ll head to City Hall in lower Manhattan.

I have a silk blouse, a skirt, and kinda high heels for the occasion. My husband has a good shirt and slacks. We want to look nice. The reason being is that we are temporarily leaving Kansas and entering the land of Oz where it is possible for two people who love each other (regardless of their sex) to solemnly swear their devotion before a presiding judge and some witnesses – in this case Bob and I and another friend of the couple.

Champagne will be drunk.  Words of love and congratulations will be tossed like confetti about the newlyweds. And there will be laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter. And joy so fierce our faces will ache with it.

Above all there will be love.

My wish for my dear friends is time. Time for loving and supporting one another, for long years of a life well-enjoyed. My wish for the world is this:  Acceptance and a whole lot of love. Maybe some music and a little peace. That’s all.

Not too much to ask for, n’est-ce pas?

Andy (aka Jack) and Ray, 2009.