Of Grandmothers and Daughters

In my basement was a box. In that box was a sweater belonging to my grandmother, gone these nine years. In the pocket of that sweater was this list. And for a moment, she was standing right next to me.

More than anything, it was the handwriting that brought Nonny back to me, but also the very her-ness of the list. Bacon bits. Vodka. Tonic. She and my grandfather were very Mad Men, drinking a cocktail or several each night. I can hear her quiet giggles still, as she laughed at my grandfather’s small collection of jokes each night over a 60 year marriage. They had their issues, but she always chuckled gamely at his jokes. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

For a moment, it hardly seemed nine years since I’d last chatted with her. She seemed so immediate. Love is like that. It is more real than time. It lasts.

In my 2011 living room, there is a wall. On that wall is a painting.

She is Anna Louise Bentley Ramadeaux Campbell, who despite all those names, was called Sarah. Her son, Albert P. Campbell, fought in the Civil War. He was my grandfather’s grandfather.

The puzzling thing about the painting is that my ancestress looks like me. Sure, she has red hair, but there is something about the tilt of the head and the eyes that I echo, as well does my daughter after me.

I wonder, if Anna Louise, called Sarah, was still alive, would we find other things that had been passed down? Would there be an inflection of voice that common between us? A certain drop-dead look that came more from genetics than we realized? A shared distaste for azaleas? A penchant for sour pickles and a high tolerance for dust bunnies under the bed? How about my intense verbal nature and passion for the written word?

Would I understand why I do the things I do by knowing more generations of my women?

When I study the painting of Anna Louise, called Sarah, living under the curse of death seems a very unnatural state. I can so easily imagine long generations of families enjoying not just their children and grandchildren, but greats and great-greats in both directions.

If all goes well, Anna Louise, called Sarah, will one day hang on my daughter’s wall and her daughter after that. I hope a picture of me will be nearby and a few scraps of words I wrote will last. And perhaps my drop-dead look will continue long after I have stopped giving it.

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