I am writing a book. I am not writing the story of my life. This means, I think, that I have to take my grandmother out of the book. She was so essential to the time I am writing about and before, but she is not part of the larger story. I do not believe in ghosts, but I just wrote at the top of today’s chapter: Take out Grandma? Sorry, Grandma, I love you.
This is reasonably unlike me.
Grandmaternal Clause was the nicest person in my family. Her father was a buyer for a department store in San Francisco. Every year he would go to New York for a couple of months, and he would write back poems to his two daughters. They were all about the adventures of a doll, I think, called Dolly in New York. They rhymed and were in meter. According to Grandmaternal Clause, her mother would get mad at her two daughters and say “Just wait until your father gets home.” And her father the poet and dress-buyer would have no idea how to punish his little girls. He would try to look sternly at them, and all four of them would burst out into laughter.
The oldest Cougar child (I can tell this story, right?) was conceived out of wedlock while Cougar was in France and had maybe not even finished college. Scandal! Paternal Clause hit the roof. Maternal Clause was horrified. No one dared tell Grandpaternal Clause. But Grandmaternal Clause, the one I always had to wear a dress for, sent Cougar a telegram: Whatever you decide, I will support you. (I’m happy to report that Oldest Cougar Child is a fancy-pants early-thirty-something with children of his own.)
I used to go visit Grandmaternal Clause when I was a moody teenager, because she always made me feel better. She gave me all her poetry books from college, and got me to read Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I read a Ken Follet book once when I was fourteen or so and staying with her, and there was a (non explicit) sex scene with a threesome in it. She told my mother to tell me (because she was too embarrassed to tell me herself?) that “that was not how normal people had sex.” When she was 91, she used to say “I’ve never known anyone as old as I am.” She had heart trouble at the end, and the last time I saw her was in the hospital. She was 92, and I was 25. She had just received a letter from Second Cougar Child, who was named after her. I held her hand and kissed her cheek. I told her good night, and went to have dinner with my mother.
Grandmaternal Clause’s favorite color was green. She taught me how to play cards and to write doggerel. When I was little, I would stay at her house and eat white-bread toast for breakfast. We never had white bread at home. I have a big old-lady jade ring that was hers. It’s too big now for my weedy copyeditor hands, but when I’m an old lady and can wear big jewelry, I will wear it every day. I will say “damn” as she did when my cards are bad. (Who am I kidding? I’ll probably say “fuck.”) And I hope I have a young friend I can leave my Sara Teasdale books to.
Who have you cut out of your book(s)?