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Me-Me's Garden This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I can't remember exactly how old I was. All I can remember is packing my yellow knit teddy bear overnight sack and feeling very grown-up about going on an "overnight at Me-Me's" with my older sister Celeste and cousin Rhonda. My mom loaded us into the candy-apple red station wagon. I remember hoping that I would have a car just like it when I was a mom. We departed our native Marshfield to travel to our intended destination: Weymouth. Our estimated travel time was only twenty minutes, but to me, with my face pressed against the back seat window, it seemed like a never ending trip to an exotic land.

As we pulled into my grandparents' driveway, I spied my grandmother's big black car with the license plate that read "MEME - 7." Me-Me, because that's what we called her, and seven because of the number of grandchildren she had. As Mom, Celeste and I neared the house, the doors opened and we were each smothered with big, wet kisses bestowed by Me-Me and my grandfather, Puppy. My mom calls those kinds of kisses Italian. She says that they were probably the only Italian I inherited, since I'm pale, blonde and Irish; more like my Dad's side of the family. But if I were to inherit anything Italian from my mom's side, I'm glad it's the wet kisses, because they feel nice. Next came my cousin Rhonda and my Aunt Rosie. (Rosie gave wet kisses too.) Rhonda, however, was much too cool for that. She carried an overnight bag also, but hers was of the shiny green plastic persuasion. She had darkish skin and dark Italian eyes. She always had lots of cherry Hubba-Bubba and lots of boyfriend stories. She was older than I, but a little bit younger than Celeste.

When Mom and Aunt Rosie left, Celeste, Rhonda and I put our bags upstairs in a special room with a king-sized bed that we all would share. The bed had a soft brown quilted blanket that stuck to the edges of your toenails if they weren't trimmed neatly. We each got our own flowered pillowcase into which we'd put our own bedroom pillow.

Next came play time. I wanted to play "pretend" outside in Me-Me's backyard. I thought the garden was truly heaven. There were flowers everywhere and a big wooden glider swing that could seat six people, maybe seven if one sat on the floor. Also, Me-Me had wooden steps built right into the earth in the back hill. I would pretend I was a princess descending from my flowery palace into the village. To me, Me-Me's backyard was the best part of the trip, but Celeste and Rhonda didn't want to go there. They wanted to talk about boys and other things. So they told me to go play by myself but not to tell Me-Me and Puppy or they would beat me up. Well, needless to say, I was devastated. I went from feeling grown-up and elated to feeling young and stupid in a matter of seconds. Then, to make matters worse, I started to cry and they laughed and called me a baby.

I ran to the backyard alone. Me-Me was there working in the garden. When I saw her, my tears returned full force. She asked me what was wrong and under the threat of being pummeled, I resisted a truthful answer and offered a lie instead. I said that I thought I was very ill and needed to go home or to an emergency room, whichever was closer. I think she knew I was fibbing (she probably always knew). She took my hand and led me into her house. I was petrified that she would call Celeste and Rhonda. She sat me down at the kitchen table, handed me a soft blue Kleenex and disappeared into the bedroom. I thought she was calling an ambulance for sure and then I'd be in real trouble when they found out I was perfectly healthy. But Me-Me returned carrying a deck of playing cards. She sat down opposite me and proceeded to teach me how to play gin rummy. "A card here ..., you draw ..., careful not to give away your hand by your facial expressions." Within a few hours, I had forgotten my sadness and become an expert gin rummy player.

Puppy came into the kitchen smoking a cigar. I watched the grey streams of smoke billow up into swirling clouds above his head that resembled grey ribbons tied onto a dozen dancing bows on invisible presents. Puppy took my hand and the last game ended. I won. (She probably let me win, but who cared?) I followed Puppy downstairs to the pool room that was filled with more twisting grey ribbons of smoke. This was Puppy's hang-out. He played old jazz records and told me of the great depression when people had no money and he would play his trumpet on a street corner in order to take Me-Me and Mom (when she was little) out to dinner.

Soon it was bedtime and I kissed Me-Me and Puppy goodnight and promised not to tell Celeste and Rhonda of our secret times. It felt good to have something over them. When I got upstairs, Celeste and Rhonda made me sleep on the floor, but I didn't care. I took my flowered pillow and lay on the floor imagining flowers, cards, kisses, and grey ribbons of smoke all dancing together on the white plaster ceiling. They all danced about smiling and laughing and smoking to jazz music in a most grown-up way.

Today Weymouth looks grey and dark to me. I can't remember when it started to turn faded and old , I don't understand why it did. The candy-apple red station wagon has gone to the junkyard. I think I'll never want an ugly car like that with its sticky vinyl interior. My grandmother's license plate reads "MEME - 9" (with 10 on the way). Me-Me now has Altzheimer's disease and as the years go by she remembers less and less. Puppy has to be her memory, reminding her to take her pills. If Puppy didn't remind her, she would forget to eat. Sometimes when I see her now, she doesn't know me , I wonder what she sees. Does she see a familiar face, but just can't connect it with a name or relation, or does she just see a blank empty face with no recollections at all. I try to think it's the former.

She is very thin now, and she can't play cards because she forgets the rules. Sometimes she will speak softly and vividly of something that happened long ago; to all our astonishment, she will hang onto things that we had forgotten in the past. She always looks content, though, when she holds one of her baby grandchildren. She sometimes looks faintly angelic with faded hair, skin and mind. She seems to be almost disappearing before our eyes, smiling and observing the world, but slipping away. I hug her and sometimes I feel as if I'm hugging right through her to myself. I will miss Me-Me when she is gone, but in a way, I miss her now. I also miss the way I used to be with her when I was young and I would pretend to be a princess in her garden. I would fix my hair with flowers and leaves and feel like a goddess on a hill. I was the angel, the child. But now the garden is overgrown with weeds and greyness. Now I see Me-Me as the angel, the child, and I feel like the grown-up for real. And when she actually dies, in some wayI I guess I feel that she will return to her garden like the princess I was when I would adorn myself with flowers. She will be covered with pastel flowers like the pattern on her pillowcases and surrounded with billowing grey ribbons, and she will finally be free to remember. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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