One of my grandmothers had a voice like a fire alarm. It was high-pitched and throaty at the same time. It was so distinct that even when she was talking conversationally it had the power of the church choir’s most reliable alto belting right at you. I don’t remember if she was a good singer or not but I do remember that she would burst into song—mostly for herself and for God—all the time. Sometimes I’d witness this while sitting in her apartment, which was on the first floor of my parents’ house. And sometimes I’d hear the sharp strains of her voice, charging through the seams in the linoleum and up the stairs, wafting through our house.
I’ve been thinking about that grandmother, whose name was Adelita, so much lately. I don’t know why. I think about her a lot, even though she died almost 23 years ago. I was obsessed with her and I guess I still am and that never goes away and so I think about her a lot and every once in a while I think about her so hard that I get sad and then I’m like “well, what am I supposed to do with this?”
I loved everything about her, starting with her name which sounds like music to me. Adelita. I loved that there was a stretch of road in Baltimore that would remind her of her brother for some reason and would always prompt her to remark “Uncle Steve sends his love.” I loved that for our birthdays and holidays she would fill old pain reliever bottles with coins and tape more coins to the sides and give them to us as presents. My brothers and I would empty those coins out of the bottles on to our beds and role around in the spare change like we were Scrooge McDuck.
I have a complicated love of the details of her life that I accepted as commonplace and eccentric but which now I understand to have had a harder edge, like those gifts. Those gifts weren’t spare change, they were all she had and the pain reliever bottles were in abundance because the pain was in abundance, but she turned the lack and the ache into abundance itself for us.
She always sang hymns—her husband had been a preacher and she was a regular churchgoer. I don’t remember if she took a dim view of secular music—she wasn’t imperious or prone to zealotry; she just loved church. I do remember, however, one afternoon when I was laying on the rust-colored carpet in my parents’ dining room, in front of the stereo system, playing a Bill Withers live concert album and he started in on a song called “Grandma’s Hands.” He bantered at the top about how wonderful grandmothers could be and how there was no love like a grandmother’s love and I nodded my 7-year-old head emphatically and started to cry a little and then she came in the room and looked at me quizzically and I got embarrassed and moved the needle to the next song on the record.
(I re-listened to the track this morning and I have to admit the banter is very strange. I understand the quizzical expression.)
We really loved each other and I think we were friends, too, but sometimes I’d get a little shy about how obsessed I was with her. These days I stan some celebrities—even though celebrity culture is a Ponzi scheme and veneration is a fool’s errand; I hope to always be obsessed with Audra and Beyoncé and many others, but my first experience of intense fandom was my grandmother. If I could have started a club or a website devoted to Adelita-related trivia, fan art, and sightings, I absolutely would have. “Spotted: Grandma! In the living room! Babysitting me! (Pictures attached)”
Recently I’ve been thinking about how my grandmother would randomly scream also. It was usually in mock frustration that was only barely not serious. She was self-effacing and funny but also life was, well, life. The scream was a release valve that never startled me (and in my youth sometimes delighted me; I was such a fan). I feel that scream rise up in me all the time these days. And I shiver a little and I laugh a little and swallow it like a birthday penny that accidentally got tangled up in a pillow case and missed the post-Scrooge McDuck clean up. I don’t think the scream will stay down forever.
What else? Her favorite drink was Cafe Vienna International Coffee in the tin can, which I thought was very fancy, and her favorite food was a little swirled pecan roll—I think it was Mrs. Freshley’s. She would always offer me a piece of pecan roll and I would always remind her that I am allergic to nuts and we would have a strange little moment of annoyed detente. We weren’t annoyed at each other but at the facts of the world that kept us from sharing this snack.
She collected salt and pepper shakers. Hundreds of them. She had a whole china cabinet full of them. Little pairs of figurines and cows and abstract shapes, huddled together forever.
She decorated the walls of her apartment with photos and inspirational passages cut out from magazines. They were all covered with Saran Wrap and affixed with four thumbtacks. I think she either moved them a lot or was constantly changing them because the walls nearly crumbled in some spots from repeated thumbtacking. Some photos were constants, however, like one of her standing in front of a bus on a trip with friends from church. She’s got her hand on her hip, just below the cinched waste of her trench coat, her head is thrown back in a way that is both glamorous and cheeky. Her white hair, which she wore in a closely cut natural style the entire time I knew her, shines like a crown around her. She looks confident and jubilant, unself-conscious and fully present. She is smiling so widely; she has an expression on her face that tells you that the photographer is a good friend with whom she shares all manner of inside jokes and that perhaps one of those is happening right now, even as the shutter descends to capture her in this moment. I think she was going to Atlantic City; I think I can remember the destination displayed on the bus. All my life I’ve thought about that trip to Atlantic City and what delights she must have found there and the memories she bound up in that photograph. I hope it was a wonderful day. I hope so hard that it becomes an anticipatory action, like I can retroactively help coax the day into being wonderful. Maybe that’s what all memories about people who are no longer with us are like: these reminisces that have such strong energies that they stretch back through the cracks in the walls of time, charging through photographs and complicated truths. And, our thoughts as tangible as a hand on a shoulder or as clear as singing voice, then reach those people that we love in another time, wherever we were together. And in that way we’re with each other again.
Good afternoon and happy pandemic to you, serfs! It is I, Ivanka Trump, former and future star of The Apprentice, and I come bearing a special message from my close personal friend @realdonaldtrump. We are receiving reports that times are hard! I was in a briefing earlier about the very concerning news that the economy was viciously attacked by cancel culture. I considered sending the economy a Get Well Soon card but I refrained because, famously, we in the Trump administration hate the U.S. Postal Service and I do not want to encourage them. Instead, I sent the economy one (1) free ticket to an upcoming Trump rally (with purchase of a hat and an appetizer; dine-in only; void where prohibited). One of the by-products of the Liberal Media's attack on the economy is that many people are claiming that they do not have jobs. We have decided that this is bad because "JOBS!" is kind of our whole thing. But, also "You're Fired!" was our whole thing before so maybe we're ambivalent about this?
At one of his regular media briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York unveiled a remarkably detailed souvenir poster that he commissioned and helped design himself. The poster's subject? Um... Well, mostly it's about New York's response to the Covid-19 crisis, but also it's perhaps a treasure map left for you by an eccentric uncle? Or maybe an album cover for a 70s folk group that later quit music to devote all of their time to Area 51 conspiracy theories? A political cartoon from the late-1800s about something called the Burlap Imbroglio? All of the above? Suffice it to say, there is a lot going on this poster and every single bit of it is amazing.
Let’s Hang Out!
Random Thing on the Internet
This morning, during church, David played this version of Aretha Franklin’s “Think” with the Royal Philharmonic. As it’s my job to run the lyrics slideshow, I find myself paying more attention to the specificities of songs than I normally would and I can’t stop thinking about this song. It’s like a stream of consciousness rant that sort of pivots every time you think you’ve got a grasp on it. But as amazing as the lyrics are they are also the sight of a point of contention in the world of online lyrical transcription. At the very end of the song the backup singers work themselves into a lather singing what some lyric sites claim is “To the bone for deepness!” and other sites think is “think about: forgiveness!” There’s also “tell about it: forgiveness” and a bunch of other variations. However, the version that was included in this week’s slideshow transcribed the phrase, brilliantly, as “To the bone—forgiveness!” and now I can’t get it out of my head. What an invocation! What a prayer! To the bone—forgiveness! To the bone! Forgiveness!
Spotted: Grandma! In the living room! Babysitting me!