|I must have been about four when I first heard that word. I remember that it was a miserably damp night, with heavy storm clouds getting ready to shower our small Manchester cottage. The space was cramped, my sister’s bed not being more than three or four feet from my own. I lied awake, staring at the small willow outside of our room, it’s limbs hanging, weeping, dropping lazily by it’s sides.
As I began to drift to sleep I felt a small tremble from the living room. My eyes widened, looking to my sister next to me, who had not so much as stirred at this. It was only a moment later before a second rattle shook our room, this one accompanied by a frantic scream. Although I could not yet make out what was being said, I did recognize the voice being that of my Grandmother’s. I jolted from my bed, taking my stuffed bear, Honey Bee, with me.
Slowly I crept into the living room, making my best effort not to be seen by my parents. There in her nightgown was my Grandmother, halfway out the front door. “Gishtu! Gishtu!” She cried with a shrill echo toward the marsh through the woods. “Gishtu! Gishtu!”
Tears rained down my Grandmother’s cheeks as she fought against my parents’ struggles to keep her inside. “You’ll catch cold Mother!” My own mother yelled, pulling Grandmother’s arm.
The struggle seemed to last for hours, until my father pulled Grandmother’s nightgown to the point of ripping a hole in its back. The gown had been stained and worn for years, yet this was still the first time it had broken.
With the tear of the gown also came the tear in my Grandmother’s spirit, and she ceased resisting at once. “Gishtu,” I heard her softly say one more time before she turned from the door and allowed herself to be helped back into her bed.
It was then that my mother noticed me in the corner of the room. She knelt beside me, her face barely illuminated by the fireplace. Without words she watched me for a moment, as if expecting me to also make way for the door. “Everything’s fine” she told me, though her eyes betrayed her. With one quick motion she pulled me into an embrace. It was perhaps the longest my mother had ever held me, and though she had given me soft words of reassurance, she began to cry, her tears landing upon my neck.
I remember walking through the small hall of our home, stopping in front of my Grandmother’s open door. Finally calm, she seemed like the Grandmother I had known again. I am certain she was aware of my presence as she looked out her window at the soft patter of rain that began to fall outside. Looking back, it’s strange what one may or may not remember. As of now, I am unsure whether or not the candle on her night stand was lit or not. I am unsure if she had covered herself in the tattered old blanket that Grandfather had brought home from the Great War, or if my parents had finally thrown that away, forcing her to use the thick red stitch that Grandma hated so much. On the other hand, I do remember that her gown had been ripped near the right shoulder and not the left, that there were no sounds of thunder, though there were occasional flashes of lightening, and also that she hadn’t worn her glasses at all that night.
My Grandmother turned to me as I stood in the hallway, clutching the small stuffed bear that she had given me at birth. A tiny smile came across her face. “Hello Honey Drop”. I smiled at my nickname. One had been given to each of her children and grandchildren, but only my sister and I got to be Honeys. “Good night Na”. I remember I called her ‘Na’. One syllable. Short for Nana. I remember this, though the sound of her voice is fading from me. “Good night Honey Drop. I love you. You and Honey Dew.” She turned her attention back to the rain on her windowsill, or perhaps…
I returned to my room to find my sister half covered, still asleep. I covered her back up and returned to bed. I gave the Willow outside one last look before pulling the covers over Honey Bee and I. A Weeping Willow is what my mother had called it. It was crying tonight. I told it to have a good night, a child’s logic of wishing trees pleasant dreams. How was I to know that it was out of my reach and couldn’t hear me?
My Grandmother passed away sometime that night while I slept. Though I would like to think that she had simply fallen asleep and not woken up, I wonder if she died alone while still watching the rain outside. I never did find out what ‘Gishtu’ meant, if anything.