AND THE WINNER ISSSSS:
“A Saint and a Criminal,” by Lauri Anderson, winner of NPR’s latest Three Minute Fiction Contest. It’s a doozy. Strong scene writing for only 600 words.
But be forewarned, Round 7 is mine, I tell you, MINEEE.
Bringing us to this week’s installment. With a tiny diversion of explanation.
Today is my maternal grandmother’s birthday. I don’t know how old she would have been if she were alive. I know she died in 1983 — four years before I was born — and that my birthday is five days after hers.
I always knew I had a grandmother, but the fact that she wasn’t around to play grandmother sort of disenchanted me. I wasn’t sure how to think of this nebulous person my family talked about but couldn’t picture, couldn’t place, until the day that this story takes place.
But of course, as I got older, I learned more about her. She was a wonderful baker. A dedicated mother. Could play piano by ear. Laughed at the cats who spun themselves around the spools on the bottom of the porch chairs. When I got my senior pictures taken in high school, my aunt told me I looked like her and I was so proud to have this kind of connection with someone I had little to no real knowledge of. We share more similarities now than my 2nd grade self could have ever imagined, given that I was almost incapable of imagining her then.
So today’s story is quite obviously in her honor. It’s called, Thanksgiving. I hope you like it.
I remember the day I found out most kids have two grandmothers. The three of us, me, my kid sister, and my cousin, were playing with an old set of Tinkertots in my grandma’s spare bedroom. It was Thanksgiving. My sister and cousin were building a Ferris wheel and I was attempting at a car when my aunt came in and told my cousin it was time to leave.
“Where are you going?” my sister asked.
“To see my granny,” my cousin said.
“Grammy’s in the kitchen,” my sister said.
“No, my Granny,” she said, stressing the double n’s, and got up and left.
My sister sat back on her heels and looked at me as if I have just told her the Tinkertots would magically turn into whatever you were building.
“Why does she have two?” she asked me.
I remember biting the inside of my lip hard. I didn’t know what to say, but what worried me more was explaining to myself why it was, exactly, that we didn’t have two?
My Pappy had just died a few days before. I wasn’t sure when because I wasn’t told until Thanksgiving morning and figured all deaths must take place at night in hospitals in Florida where my aunt was a nurse and that death would never happen on an actual holiday. Thanksgiving had been replaced by a parade of people coming to my grandma’s house with food, which seemed normal given the holiday, but not until my cousin left to see the other side of her family, did I realize that for everyone else, this was just Thanksgiving.
The funeral had been the day before. The three of us girls sat on one of the love seats in the viewing room playing tic tac toe with my uncle from Florida. I didn’t cry the whole day. My cousin and sister couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until I saw the hearse that my stomach turned inside out. It looked like something out of a horror movie, and I couldn’t reconcile any comfort from the sight of it. When I got home, I threw up.
My mother had given me a note to take to school to give to my teacher, saying my Pappy had passed over Thanksgiving break. I felt like a crook, asking for pity, when I had been so unable to physically show it to my own family. It had become an incredibly weighted yet simple math problem in my mind: I had had three grandparents, now I had two. I was keeping score, and I hadn’t even realized I should have been starting the math problem with four.
Taking off my shoes in front of the fireplace after school, I looked up at the black and white photograph of my young grandparents. The man was my grandfather, my Pop Pop, the one who told jokes about wooden nickels and smelled like garlic, the one who visited every Friday after school. The woman was my mother’s mother. If she really was my grandmother, she was only my perennially youthful grandmother living in that photo. I didn’t know her. I felt my throat tighten and my jaw ache. Staring at the photograph, I felt a fury growing my chest. How did this missing person have such a hold on me? Her eyes set on the distant photographer dismissed me. I wanted to smash the whole thing into a thousand tiny bits of glass and paper, tell her how unfair she was being, how unforgiving, how selfish. Instead, I wrapped my arms around my cat and buried my puffy, wet 7-year-old face into its sandy fur.