My Grandmother Annie traveled the world
and she always brought a gift home for me.
No snow globes or figurines,
no dolls or replicas of cathedrals.
Nothing to add to the list of things
I had to dust every week.
No, Annie brought me words.
New words every time that harkened back
to a place she spent time imbibing. For
as Annie used to say: when you go somewhere new--
drink it in, inhale its essence; because then it is
forever a part of you. Beyond mere memory.
One word she brought me from a place
called Derry -- Mayhap.
It may happen. A far better word
than the everyday 'maybe.'
Mayhap opened possibilities,
was full of hope and longing.
Another, from Kilkenny County in Ireland -- half-six
or eight or twelve.
It meant six-thirty or twelve-thirty,
but the sound of that 'half'
meant there was more to come, as if the idea
wasn't quite full or quite ready yet.
From Scotland came Bairn. A child
as I was yet but it sounded far more
grown-up than little girl did. Another was Ben --
a word for mountain. We lived on a mountain
and I love living in the bens.
Carrick-on-Suir or in the Irish, Carraig na Siúire,
just the sound of it was pure magic. Annie always said
I was her changeling child and she filled me up
with stories of Irish sprites and faery flights.
She'd touch my pointed ears
and say they were a gift, that I was magical.
She brought me books like Helen Keller had
when we didn't know if I'd ever see again. At least,
I could hear, she'd caution, when I complained.
'Listen' became her word of the year: to the sound
the water makes when a glass is almost full,
to the difference in bird song from winter to spring,
to tree frogs singing, and to myriad other sounds
that filled a day. Myriad she gave me when
I didn't realize just how much I still had.
Annie brought me tales of The Jar-children of Paris
long before I ever read Victor Hugo. She spent a summer
herding goats because that's what the kids she'd nannied
wanted to do. A chalet clinging to the side
of a mountain and fourteen goats with Swiss goat bells
rang through her days chasing recalcitrant
goats and children. At home, she took me to a place
and had me milk a goat and drink the creamy milk.
She sadly shook her head when I begged
to bring some baby goats home.
Buchenwald and Dachau she brought me from Germany
along with tales of a girl named Anne who died during the war.
She spoke of East and West and walls walling
people in and out. Twenty years before it fell,
I saw the Berlin Wall. I took a piece of rock home.
I still have it. Annie said the phrase would be
'hard as a rock' - how some people think.
They stayed on a reservation in Oklahoma one summer.
The nanny and her charges learned about
Native Americans. They slept in teepees as well
as a roundhouse. They skinned deer, heard about
the Trail of Tears, and dressed in clothes they would have worn
two hundred years ago. Annie told me of medicine women,
age-old tales of wolves and eagles. It was important,
she'd said because I carried Native blood in my veins.
That was the August I learned
to run through the woods soundlessly,
to make birch bark and sassafras teas,
to learn how to boil the willow, and,
to call down the moon. I danced across our meadow
in half-three moonlight, rolled in early morning dew,
and learned words in ancient tongues.
Warp and woof and weave. Annie taught me to
spin yarn from wool, to weave it into a blanket
to keep me warm at night. She spoke of Culloden
and claymore swords. Forte and foible
were sword words first and she taught me to fence
with word and foil. I learned to tap into the unknown;
be it foundation stories, ancient glyphs, or maple trees.
And always to find, no matter how elusive, the syrup.
She gave me journals - "Write down your midnight
thoughts, your hazy afternoon mind meanderings.
Both they and you have untapped worth."
The journals evolved to poetry, to short stories,
to word collages, to sorting out my world. she was
a walking thesaurus, etymologist and knew
more about everything than anyone else I've ever known.
Her favorite gifts from me were always poems or even,
just a sentence I really liked. Mine or something I'd read.
She introduced me to Robert Frost when I was
really young, and thought I was a poet. He told me
differently. Said I might be one day, if I listened
to him, to the time gift he gave me.
Annie gave me hard words too. Retribution,
consequences, trust, and honor.
Lessons I needed to learn and then learn again.
And she taught me about forgiveness and letting go.
How kindness was lasting and how a smile
could warm a heart even decades later.
Pride was a big one. Be proud of yourself.
Not to worry about being cool or an 'in; kid
as those definitions changed at the drop of a hat.
Looks fade, circumstances change. What's real,
what lasts is who you are inside;
are the words you define yourself as,
and the words you utter to others. Spoken words,
she told me, are different than written words.
The written may be erased, but once spoken,
words are inscribed in stone. Apologies might
absolve the action, but the words
linger in the wind forever.
She was my benchmark, my touchstone,
my compass and my rock in the wind.
Annie laid down the blueprint and
encouraged me, always, to dream big.
'Write your own story, live your own life.'
I don't know how many times she repeated the mantra.
But it sank into the core of me and usually, eventually,
I've done just that.
Annie was always her own definition
and she, in turn, taught me how
to define me -- to set my own terms,
and to write my way down the path I devised.
I've been a free spirit and I've never
colored within the lines. I see someone's words
not the color of their skin, the walls around them
nor how they clothe themselves.
When Annie died, I learned the true meaning
of the words hole and empty and lonely. Then,
as she would have insisted,
I learned new ways to define and refine them
because she taught me to 'think; not sink.'
Her compass always pointed true north.
Her star always is the correct azimuth
and I can ferret out even the most obscure
destination. By definition.
And yet, a book still being written, a story
always under revision. Editing as I go.
Changing paraphical behaviors, rewriting
responses, paraphrasing paradoxes, I
create new chapters and shall until
my story has been written.