I’ve been helping my father with his project of preserving a massive collection of old family photos in digital format, and I had to share this one, hot off the scanner.
That’s my great-grandmother, Patricia Irene, who spoke with an Irish lilt all her life. During my father’s childhood, she lived along a canal in Florida and would order her grandchildren to go and pick their own breakfasts from the many varieties of citrus she grew in her back yard.
Oh, and then she would get impatient when they didn’t go do it pronto and storm off to do it herself, thus ensuring that it would be another morning task for her forevermore. (Oh, I feel your pain, great-grandma.) Although I suspect she secretly did not mind being out early in the sweetly scented grove, choosing the ripest among the fresh fruits for her beloved grandchildren.
“Oh, my God!” my sister breathed when I passed her this photo during our holiday family gathering. Our eyes met, and some kind of recognition flashed between us. It wasn’t just the fact that she was beaming up at us from among our beloved dogwood blossoms, or her sturdy stance in the leaf mold. Somehow we both knew immediately that Patricia Irene would have been a kindred spirit, no matter her flaws — which Dad assures us were many and legend.
In fact, I couldn’t stop asking him for more of his memories of her over the Christmas holidays, and I think it was a pleasure for him to have an attentive audience for those tales he hardly ever tells. (If ever, for I’d never heard many of them.)
It was hard to reconcile this laughing little wood nymph, exactly five feet tall, with the hard edge of the ruler she used to slap my father’s knuckles whenever he practiced piano. (I tell myself it was the era’s style of musical education, and not just her personal belief that knuckle pain somehow inspired discipline.)
But it was so much easier to hear that she was a professional classical musician (cellist). My sis is a professional classical musician (oboist). But then, my mom was once, too, and I suspect that’s had a much stronger influence on my sister. (I once played an instrument tolerably well, but I believe that’s because I come from a family of musicians and devoted music lovers. It was hard not to pick up something when it was basically in the air.)
Beyond the music, she was a lover of poetry, an inspired cook, and a fanatic for her gardens, wherever she happened to be. She also had a temper, hated to wear makeup, had feisty political opinions, and loved to walk in the woods.
Without ever having met her, I seem to have been channeling my great-grandmother all my life. Isn’t that funny?
(Of course, nowadays I’d never steal entire branches off the dogwood trees for any reason, and I suggest we all limit our love of their beauty to observation and not possession, if at all possible. The noble dogwood is struggling for its very existence. You can read more about that in a wonderfully emotional previous post here.)