on my paternal grandmother’s hundred and first birthday

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Which sounds like it could be the title for a poem, but it isn’t. At least this post isn’t, although it will include mention of a poem I wrote when my grandma died.

Although is it weird to say her birthday since she’s no longer living? Well, it’s still the date of her birth. Last year, her hundredth, was the first May 3 since she passed, we held her memorial service that day. Or maybe I should say a memorial service for her, since she didn’t want anything. But then those things are more for the living than the dead.

It was the same day as Boggs, so I missed that. At the end of the day I felt more wrung out that if I’d ridden my bike around in circles in the woods for 8+ hours. That emotional s**t will do that to you.

It was the first – and quite likely will be the only – time all of her (living at the time) descendants were in the same place at the same time. Five children, eight grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. There were also a bunch of relatives from my grandfather’s first family and a variety of friends and associates.

Some of the people were names I’d heard over the years but never met, so it was neat to have a face to go with the name. Maybe because my dad was one of the instigators, er, organizers for the event I felt the need to circulate around and chat and thank people for coming. I tried to talk to as many people as possible, and especially folks who didn’t seem to know many other people. That was tiring too, for an introvert, although I didn’t notice until we were done with it all how exhausted I was.

My father spoke first, and then the remaining living half-sibling. Then I read the poem. It was the second time I’d read it in public, and, again, I survived. (Sometimes, especially with something like this – what? so personal, out loud, in public? – I’m surprised I’m not struck by a bolt of lightning.) In some ways it was easier this time, although there were more people, it was in a bigger space so they were spread out and there were more places to look. And my dad was standing next to me, not out in the audience.

The fist time I’d read it was at our Speakeasy at the show Iota did at the RiskPress Gallery. My dad was there, and my mom, one of my aunts, a cousin and her husband, as well as some friends. I’d told my dad I was going to be reading a poem for grandma, didn’t seem like it should be a surprise. He didn’t ask to hear or see it beforehand, I’m not sure what I would have done if he had.

I did look at him briefly, but he had his eyes closed. I caught my cousin’s eye, she smiled, which helped, then I had to look around. Smile from a friend, look at the page – I didn’t have it memorized – breathe. Read.

At the memorial it was open mic after I read. It was neat to hear some stories I never had before and the different versions of my grandma. Some perhaps enhanced by death, but isn’t that the way it goes? And why don’t we have gatherings like this when the people are still alive?

I’d printed the poem on handmade recycled jean paper for the family members, and then on another simpler paper for an edition of 99 (her age at death.) I gave family members their copies, and put out the others for people to take. I got one of the best compliments from someone who was not able to come to the memorial but got a copy of the poem – “I love your poem. I hate your poem.” It reminded her of my grandma, and it made her cry. It so amazes and touches me when someone is moved by something I write and takes the time to let me know. Maybe that is the lightning bolt.

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