She smiles down at me, living in the full pleasure of being alive. I don't yet understand her importance or her influence, but I love her just the same. I take her hand, and we dance across the beach, happily following the shoreline, our windbreakers fluttering against our arms. We laugh, looking for sand dollars, mimicking seagulls, and enjoying sunset at Higgins Beach.
Tingling with life, we return to the cottage, our bare nerve ends raw from exposure to the wind-blown sand. Our hair is tangled, the feeling of salt air all through it. I drag the twisted green hose from the flower garden and rinse the salt water off our feet. Soon we are reaching into pockets and rediscovering the treasures found just minutes before. Half a sea urchin tumbles out, and then a particularly shiny lady slipper. Walking up the cottage steps, my grandmother must stop and inspect the clover. Four-leaf clovers hold a special appeal for her, thousands lay pressed in various books, forgotten, the books now returned to countless libraries. We toss our treasures in the sink and then wash them off. When dried, they are scattered about the cottage, placed on window sills, next to lamps, symbolically perched on the TV, the large shells always reserved to be used as soap dishes.
The day is done, but the living of it is not. Quickly we rush to change into our pajamas. She was never one for nightgowns. I run a toothbrush over my teeth, and bound into her room, clutching a book in my hand. Jumping on her bed, I see everything has already been arranged: the pillows piled back against the wall, the glass of water on the table, the book on top of the radio. I grin in the familiarity of it all, and she asks what book I have. I tell her, and hand it to her. We sit next to each other and lean back against a dozen pillows. She reads, and I follow along, completely unaware of any other world. All too soon the book is finished, the chapter completed, the paragraph done. I go up to bed while she goes to the freezer for Hershey bars and completes some reading of her own.
The new day starts off with a morning beach walk, but today is different. We're going shopping. By late morning we have set off in her little blue car. Heading for the bread store I chat endlessly about school, my Christmas hopes, and favorite books. Grammy is always interested in what I am reading. She too talks about books - those she is hoping to write. We pull into Country Kitchen and buy all the day-old bread. Piling it into her car, we discuss which clothing store to traverse. Time to shop. We enter the building, no real goal in mind. No, I don't have one; she does. In her mind she goes through all the people she knows, all the people she hasn't seen for awhile, people she knows who are under the weather. And she tries to find something for them. Something to make them smile; nothing big or expensive or fancy, just a smile she can wrap up and mail them.
Heading back to the cottage, we laugh over the foolish things manufacturers are producing. She is excited about the bread. Pulling into the driveway she comments on adding more flowers to the garden. Unloading everything we laugh some more and hurry inside. We throw everything in the hallway and rush toward the day-old bread. Flying out the door, we run down the beach. Stopping halfway to the shore, we stand, and begin ripping into the bread packages. Slices of bread begin to whiz through the air. Seagulls come from the far ends of the beach. Layers of circles of squawking gulls, flying slices of bread, sounds of flapping wings and laughter, the air pushed by bird wings, and there, in the center, my grandmother and me.
She thinks nothing of this, except the fun that it is. That there might be questioning thoughts by neighbors, beach-walkers, fishermen doesn't occur to her. And if it does, she doesn't care.
My grandmother became a woman that, beyond my love, I have grown to respect and admire. She chose to divorce her first husband in the 1930's. Unheard of. She kept her two children and soon remarried. Qualms about dating when she had children? Never.
She wanted to be an author. She wrote newspaper articles at age sixteen. But the big magazines wouldn't publish works by a woman. So she changed her name to Duane. No big deal,
She has published dozens of books in just as many languages. Awards, respect, the love and admiration of many. But in my eyes, her greatest trait was her ability to live. Her favorite words were, "Let's celebrate." When lengthened, the full sentence would read, "Let us celebrate being alive."
Never once did she stop living, stop feeling, stop caring, stop being. She hated the dumb television shows, the raunchy books, the items that deaden a person to the world. In short, my grandmother knew what life was, and I, in all my respect and love for her, have learned life from her. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.