Visits to My Grandmother's
My grandmother holds me close. She holds me very close. I’m of that age. This is what she tells me. She says with a child of three or four, you have to hold them. You can’t lead them by the hand if you want them to live.
My grandmother tells me these things when I go to her room. In winter or in summer, when we arrive at the house, my father carries the luggage in from the car and my mother puts together a little something for lunch (or for dinner, if the traffic was bad). On the way to the kitchen is the door to my grandmother’s room. My mother glances over her shoulder at the door, and then at me, and I open it.
You have to hold them close, my grandmother says. Otherwise in a crowd, when everyone is packed together, packed so tight it hurts and still there’s more people arriving, you’ll be forced to let go. You’ll have no other choice.
I’m not three or four. I’m six years old. But my mother says my grandmother is of the age when she loses track of time. Usually, my mother opens the door after a few minutes with something cold and heavy in her hand. She says: why did you put the iron in the fridge, Mom? Or else: a paperweight? A potted plant?
My grandmother says, if you’re watching your house burn down and you see a blue flame, check to see who it is that you’ve lost. Blue means a person is burning, and it’s good to start accepting that as soon as you can. Even bones burn blue, so even if you can’t look until later, when the flames are lower, you’ll know.
New Year’s. The street in front of the house is full of cars taking people up the mountain. My grandmother listens to each one, and she says: Sikorsky. Mustang. B-29 but flying high, not carrying bombs. Grummans and they’re heavily loaded. Just listen to that engine growl.
August. My grandmother clutching her blanket in the midsummer heat. She says: take your bedding with you. This is absolutely important. Even in a river you’ll need something to protect you from the falling sparks.
New Year’s again. If you must, she says, you can use a body as a shield. I’ve seen it work. A mother dead on the ground with something beneath her. The baby dead too, but it hadn’t been burned. Whether it was smoke that killed it, or the heat, I don’t know.
August. My grandmother standing outside the van, a nurse at each arm. Even from here I can see the place where the house had nearly burned down. The heavy tread of the fire truck where they parked in the grass. The blackened crust of the walls, the light shining through the cracks. The nurses saying her name over and over. Mrs. Netsuda? they say. Mrs. Netsuda can you hear me? There’s nothing to worry about. We’re just taking you somewhere for a little while.
But my grandmother holds me close. She holds me very close. No matter how hard they try to pry her hands away—and they try very hard—still she doesn’t want to let go.