Today, in plain sight of the demanding to do list, I shove everything aside and sit writing letters to my unborn grandchild in a beautiful journal my friend Tari bought for me when I took it off the shelf and told her of my plan. I won’t know this grandchild like I wish I would, you see, and she or he won’t know me, either. Geographical distance separates us – undoubtedly not as much geography as lies between some of my friends and their grandchildren – but today I take no solace in comparisons, and the scolding voice that admonishes me I ought to be ashamed of myself for such frivolity in light of all that needs to be done and warns me with a wagging finger that such honesty could bring consequential riffs in an already extensive geographical divide, is asked in no uncertain terms to go hurl itself off the top of the waterfall.
Today my heart breaks into a thousand shards at the thought of it all, and that is just the way it is.
I pen these letters in what most surely will be Book One in hopes that One Day, when the child is old enough to think his own thoughts and wise enough to ask her own questions, she/he will take this book to a quiet spot – perhaps on a boulder in the middle of a particular waterfall – and get to know me more deeply and will feel my caring, love, and unwavering support, maybe even glean some wisdom, in my inked words.
The time draws near when I need to assume my grandmotherly moniker. Now “Grandmother” is a fine name – and I count myself lucky to have known some mighty fine women who went by that name. But me, I long for something different. Am I being difficult? Is it because my mother, who honored her promise to her mother-in-law to name her firstborn after the mother-in-law’s son who was killed as a teenager, chose to spell “Gene” (my uncle’s name), J-e-a-n-n-e? Is it because I’m a writer? Do I put too much stock into names? Maybe, and I don’t give a rat’s ass why, I only know that I want special names for us.
My friend Jane Cunningham, who hails from New Zealand, sent me the most beautiful scarf made of yak wool, and it came to me in a mailer bearing the word “Kaitiaki”, the Maori word for protector or guardian. “Tiaki”, the mailer explains, means “care.” I’ve kept the envelope for I don’t know how many months because that word spoke to me, and though my Southern tongue will most definitely mangle the pronunciation, it’s a word that tapped its foot and cleared its throat by way of saying “Heed.” Might this be The Name?
Maybe I spend time on this because it is the one thing I have some say over. A child’s personal history begins with the memories and stories of their grandparents. This child will not know independence and grow wings by walking to see me the way my young children walked to see their grandparents. And this child may not sit at the table with the roots of multi-generations telling stories and kidding each other, or have a treasure trove of stories about great great aunts who hid cheeseballs in pecan trees, or great granddaddies who saw a teddybear advertised in the Western Auto weekly flyer and insisted on going right then to buy one with his great grandchild, or know what it’s like to ride on a tractor for hours on end with his granddaddy, or go see her grandmother after school and be paraded around the office as the obvious apple of her grandmother’s eye, or have any other number of opportunities to give him or her paternal roots that run so deep . . . but she or he will have a book of letters, and we will share special names.