Saturday, April 28, 2012

Roots

When I was a kid, my grandma (Mausy) drove a silver truck with a bumper sticker that read: "you toucha my truck I breaka you face." To this day, I have no idea what that really means.

In retrospect, the truck itself was an oddity. It sported the sticker, of course, and also featured two "back seats"--padded monstrosities which folded down from the cab interior of the truck bed. As these "seats" were situated behind the driver and passenger seats, the sitter was given exactly 1.5 feet in which to "stretch out"...my brothers and I fought over these iron maidens as if they had been forged by the Gods.

Its possession was also questionable. As my grandmother was a woman of small stature who lived in the suburbs and never, with the exception of my uncle, aided in any strenuous moves, I have literally no idea why she possessed such a vehicle. Or why she took such great pride in driving it. Had I sense at that tender age, I would have been embarrassed to be seen, contorted, a human pretzel, stuffed in the makeshift "kids section" of a truck bearing "you toucha my truck, I breaka you face."

I'm glad I didn't have sense.

Because I loved that truck.

Today, I miss my grandmother.

Like so many, my childhood was less than ideal, but when I needed a respite I knew there were two "safe" places to which I could retreat: my imagination and my grandmother's house. I started writing at a very early age--right about the time I took the red suitcase emblazoned "Going to Grandma's" to my sojourns to Sussex Place.

I spent a significant portion of my childhood at Mausy's. When she wasn't at her bridal shop (I visited her there often too), I stayed at her home under the watchful supervision of my Great Aunt Clara, who found it amusing to chase me and my brothers around the house without her teeth in.

I miss Clara too.

I think about these women often, especially my grandmother. I could bore you senseless with the sights and smells of grandma's house. I know now that I have the power in my words to transport you there, to let you in at that uncomfortable level. With the one true gift I know I possess, I could show you what it was really like to bravely face that dark hallway at the rear of the house, singing Neil Diamond's "Turn On Your Heart Light" as you ran from the room that had The Incredible Hulk Head in the closet. How you were "safe" once you got to grandma's room. But in doing so, I would inevitably spur you thinking about your grandmother, and, in this moment dear reader, I'd like to focus on mine.

Her name was Wanda Jean.

And I didn't really know her at all.

Of the many facts I have garnered about my grandmother, I will share with you these: she was born in the 1930s, the next to youngest of 10 children. As her youngest sibling, Buster Brown, died in infancy, my grandmother was the baby of her family. She grew up poor in Virginia, the daughter of a once very wealthy woman who was disinherited for marrying a poor man. I know very little about my grandmother's childhood, but do know that she had to get water from a well house. She was married twice, the first time to a man who sired my mother. I do not know this man. The second time to Harvey Barker, the man who would go on to adopt my mother, sire my uncle, and become my first very best friend. I know my grandmother worked in a bank.

Everything else--until I came along--is hearsay.

Lately, this knowledge (or lack thereof) has become unacceptable to me.

Like all children, I knew my grandmother for the role she played in my life. As if she had had no existence pior to March 16, 1981, I knew Mausy by the things she said and did to, with and for me. I could speak endlessly to these. She was, in so many respects, the ideal grandmother. But, as I age, I wish with all my heart that I had known Wanda Jean.

How is it possible that this woman who, it can honestly be said, forged me in her fires was such a stranger to me? How is it that I only discovered and rediscovered this at the end of her natural life?

This was a woman who attended every recital, every concert, every show. This was a woman whose every social event, save bowling and bingo, revolved around being there for her family. This is a woman who would die for me. And who didn't write me off when I threw a Bible at her from a second-story balcony. (To my credit, I didn't write her off either...)

...

Today I have two wedding dresses in my closet, both from my grandmother's bridal store. She saved them for me, so I would have something beautiful to wear for my wedding. My mother found them among her things when she died. The boxes remain unopened. I think they always will.

I will marry someday, but there is something about the sentimentality of that unopened box...the last unshared vision of a grandmother for her granddaughter.

Fuck, grandma. You've been dead for three years. How is it possible you just made me cry?

...

In one of my last conversations with Mausy, I told her I wanted to give her a tape recorder, and that I wanted her to tell me all of her stories so I would forever have them. I told her this, but I didn't follow up with the tape recorder. And I didn't take her to the beach one last time, like I promised I would. I should have. I don't even know why she loved the beach. I never got around to asking her.

And I guess that's the lesson here: to sieze the day. To not procrastinate on getting to know, on spending time with, on loving with all your heart those people whose very existence fuel your own. I don't know. To be frank, I am too emotional to address it at present. I can tell because too many words are coming at once, none of them cohesive. When this happens, I know I need to take a break. But if I stop now I might never finish...

I have a job to secure and a thesis to write...but, my friends, I instead feel compelled to take on a project.

To my knowledge, my grandmother has three siblings living. And, of course, her children.

I am a filmmaker, am I not?

I need to take a journey--a journey that begins in Virginia in 1937 and ends in an Atlanta hospital in May of 2009. Through my medium, I will finally meet someone who I've spent time with on so many occasions it's impossible to keep count.

Today, I will begin my journey to meet Wanda Jean.

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