Tuesday, November 27, 2012


As an act of contrition for my self-obsessed posts, a story. Of course, it is a story that I have been ruminating on due to a recent turn of my own personal life events, but whatever. It'll probably be more enjoyable for you, my dear non-readers, than my constant roller-coaster-ride of emotions. It's also possible that I've written about this before, but in that case, it'll be a nice reflection on memory.

Here it goes!

My mother's mother is the most wonderful, wacky human being in the world. She's also one of the strongest people I know.

She divorced my grandfather after discovering his infidelity, and watched him cut every last one of her credit cards up in front of her and her six kids. He closed her out of her own checking account. She had a high-school degree, no skills, no money.

She had been making things for the kids for a while, bags and clothes with her little sewing machine. And I'm not sure quite how it happened, but she decided to start making more of these things for other people, and selling them.

A scrunchie in action. Hers were nicer.
When I was a kid, a trip to Nanny's house was synonymous with scrunchies. Somewhere in the mid-'80's my aunt Dorothy who worked as a floor person at the Manhattan Bloomingdale's (Dorothy, as an aside, was denied the opportunity for a college education by her father, who didn't believe any of his four daughters deserved an education) sported a scrunchie in her hair. Nanny yanked it right out, and asked her what it was. Dorothy said it was the next big thing, and Nanny immediately started production of the things. Well, my Nanny rode the wave of that scrunchie fad, sometimes raking in thousands of dollars in sales of that foppish hair accessory at a single craft fair. She had trash bags full of them in her garage, and I would go in and put ten on my arms to take home.

She continued selling her sewing products at craft fairs well after the scrunchie fad fizzled. She started making tote bags, which were and are a huge hit, and different kinds of scarves and necklaces. Her eye for clean shapes, and funky fabric/button combinations made her table a hot-spot for fair regulars, and she even started selling them to stores and making money on commission. Until recently she maintained another job, but the sewing was a creative outlet for her, and also, at times, a nice extra source of revenue.

To my knowledge, she never dated anybody again, and from what she's told me, she never wanted to. She just "couldn't imagine" having to compromise what she'd managed to create for herself. Which, I guess was a safe place, solace, independence, creative fulfillment, happiness.

I started talking to her on a routine basis a few years ago for both personal and artistic reasons. I was going through a terrible bout of heartbreak, which was exacerbated by creative frustrations, or really a lack of creative activity, which always has me feeling low. I wanted to latch onto anything, anything at all that interested me -- or lit a spark in me, or had me make something, even if that something was ultimately meaningless and didn't "amount" to anything. That was the primary reason for starting this blog.

I digress. Well we were talking one day, and I forget exactly why this came up but she said she wanted to tell me about something extraordinary that happened.

She was at one of her craft fairs, and sitting next to a man who had a table full of bird houses. Not just any bird houses, but "the most beautiful, intricate little houses." She started admiring them and struck up a conversation with the man, his name was George. George was a widower who had remarried. He had been in investment banking, or some other high-powered career in finance. He retired early after his wife's death, and decided to start making these bird houses to pass the time. They hit it off, and from the sound of it, the conversation got pretty deep in a short span of time. He offered her some of his popcorn, she obliged. There was a lull in the conversation at that point, and I think for a moment they just sat and stared at each other in disbelief. Maybe he was embarrassed by the realness of their encounter, or maybe he didn't have much else to give, but, he offered her some of his cherry soda as well. She said something flirtatious in response. I think it was something like, "Sure, George, I'll have some of your cherry soda." Nothing sexy, just like with the tonal implications that make something unmistakably flirty. They laughed, and continued gabbing over their shared snack, and the kind of shared experience that I guess can only be acknowledge by individuals with a certain amount of age and experience and I-don't-give-a-shit-ness. At a certain point his wife stopped by and seemed perturbed by something or other. My grandmother immediately disliked her. After she left, things quickly went back to normal with a joke or two. Their time together whirred on by. Then, other booths started to pack up, and it was time to go. They dragged out this process a bit, and then it came time to say good-bye.

Now, here's the first truly amazing part of this story. He looked at her, and asked her if he could give her a hug. She said, "Sure, George. You can hug me." So he did. And then he looked at her and said, "It is what it is."

Listening to my grandmother tell me these this particular detail over the phone -- I was agog. The fact that he'd say something like that out loud -- something that actually acknowledged and validated what they'd been feeling and thinking -- somehow verbalizing that they had been both feeling and thinking the same thing...this really took my breath away. I was amazed that this kind of stuff could ever happen, let alone happen when there had been utterly no grounds for saying something. How much of this sh*t goes unremarked, or is brushed under the rug when people in their youth or pride or ignorance are more invested in saving face than facing reality? How much of the stuff that I'd felt in my little life, but de-validated in my mind and my actions, had also been felt by somebody else, who also didn't utter anything in response? It was a bit overwhelming...

As I sort of re-composed myself, clumsily managing to sputter out something inaudible -- but which probably still intoned something naïve and conciliatory -- she hit me with another whammy.

She said: "I waited forty years for a hug."

Bam. On the floor, once again. She had admitted not only to herself, but also to me a fact as plain as day, but one I'd never dare to think about. Forty years...for a hug. She had waited for just the right moment, the right guy, the right hug. There was a sort of quiet sadness to the way she said it, as though it didn't even matter whether or not there was somebody on the other end of the phone. It wasn't a self-pitying kind of sadness, but the kind that comes with a relinquishment. A realness. (You've all seen it at the end of Titanic, when the old lady drops the billion-dollar necklace into the ocean. Yep, like that.)

Well -- I didn't know how to react to this at all, so I just ended up waiting. She finished the story by telling me that he'd chased her down in the parking lot. He gave her his card, and an apple. She said thank you and then left, and that was that. I still didn't know what to say. Eventually, I mustered up a, "Well, what do you think is going to happen?" I felt dumb. Of course nothing was going to happen. Really, nothing did happen. A lot had happened.

It was as though she'd struck my head like a gong, and it was vibrating and reverberating inwardly and outwardly. My little head was buzzing, and every time I thought about the story I felt tingly and a little sick. I kept this drunken feeling to myself for a few days, but then I had to start selectively telling people. I may have told two or three people before I started to get a grip.

A few weeks later I was talking to her again, and I asked about George. I asked her how she was feeling about it, about what had happened. I was really curious.

She said, "You know, I was starting to feel really down about it, and then I did something amazing. I changed it in my head." I let her go on, again, not knowing what to say. "I do this sometimes when I start down a path of self-pity or doubt or when I want something that I can't have. I am just taking it for what it is. I'm really thankful that it happened, but it is what it is and now it's over. I just want to preserve the magic of it in my head, and protect it. I don't want to ruin it. I do the same thing when somebody wrongs me. I don't hold grudges. I just take each day at a time."

Well, and that was the third time I was floored by her resilience and candor. And strength. And positivity. And I admit I realized a great deal of how I think must come from somewhere, and that somewhere might be in this other person.

I'm not really sure how to end this. So. That's all I'm going to say about George.