“Who knows that ’tis not life which we call death, And death our life on earth?”
These gray, overcast days always remind me of my paternal grandmother. With fans spinning all around me now, as they were back then, and the rain falling intermittently, my grandmother knew best how to keep kids occupied.
It’s a memory I haven’t accessed in years — sitting under the umbrella of the picnic table, if the day was only gray, or, snug and dry at a table in the screened-in porch of her house, listening to the rain make music on the roof and hunched over my Colorforms.
Colorforms are thin, die-cut vinyl images (my favorites were the Gumby playset, and the Raggedy Ann and Andy playset) placed on a slick, cardboard backdrop scene and held in place by static cling. The figures are removable, and so, can be arranged and rearranged endlessly, limited only by a child’s imagination.
Other rainy days, my grandmother set out paint brushes and cups of water and out came the Paint with Water books, with convenient tear-out sheets making for perfect refrigerator art.
The only thing that could tear us children from our creations was the song of the ice cream truck coming around the corner. Like the Pied Piper’s flute, children emptied from rows of front doors into a river of bright faces, sweaty hands clutching quarters that used to look much bigger, then, and the grinning ice cream man akin to a celebrity sighting.
My grandmother always had change. Being the country mouse visiting from a place that didn’t have streetlights or sidewalks, corner stores or enough children to make a river, let alone ice cream trucks, I was always more excited than the city children. Grinning from ear to ear (as my face’s muscle memory still remembers) in that goofy, free and un-self-conscious way that always makes childhood magical, (no matter what’s going on around you), my never wavering choice was the red-white-and-blue Bomb Pop.
I think it’s why I love Monsoon Season so much — it reminds me of my grandmother and of some of the best memories of my childhood. She once told me how much I reminded her of herself — little feet, diminutive height, (exactly the same height), big personality, life of the party — and I couldn’t see it all, back then, as I can, now. The fact is even more precious to me as I grow older.
I see the resemblance most when I’m alone at night, a night-owl on the couch watching old movies at two in the morning, just like she used to do.
Last night, the terriers began barking down the empty hallway; I watched their eyes follow something I couldn’t see, all the way over to the space beside me, and it’s not the first time. That’s when I wonder if she’s dropped by for a visit, sitting down next to me to catch the end of the “show”.
Perhaps that’s why I’m hyper-noticing today, out of the blue, the sound of the fans and remembering the distorted voices of children yelling into them. Or, the rubber snake from Woolworth’s that I just had to have, and the expensive marionette she gave me for my eleventh birthday.
All I need to make the memories complete is a slice of her favorite treat — Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist. At a time when food really was love, and as uncomplicated as air, perhaps it’s those food memories I cherish most of all.
I’ll be sad to see the sun come out, today, and break this nostalgic spell. But the horses need it, like nature’s blowdryer between storms. That’s okay. Memory Lane will remain gray, wet and full of noisy fans, just the way I like it.
(And on that note, Grandma, if you’re listening? Could you please send a few of my query letters to the right agents? Maybe find an agent who likes Colorforms, Paint with Water, and Entenmann’s? It couldn’t hurt. Thanks.)