My grandmother McGhee lived her entire life in the Hudson River valley of downstate New York. She was a young mother in the Great Depression, a farm wife, a high school English teacher, a gardener, canner, cook, needle pointer and housekeeper extraordinaire, and the kind of grandmother who always shook her head sadly at my standard DQ order of a small vanilla cone. Oh Alison, she would say sorrowfully, that tiny little cone? Are you sure you don’t want a sundae instead?
She was a big woman, ashamed of her heavy legs, and she never danced, except alone, in her kitchen, to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I know this because of the times (unbeknownst to her) that I witnessed her, standing in place, swaying ever so slightly from side to side, one hand moving in the air to the music, which she loved. When she died, at ninety, I dropped to my knees and made a sound that my children –who were tiny at the time–still remember.
Bach and My Father, by Paul Zimmer
Six days a week my father sold shoes
to support our family through depression and war,
nursed his wife through years of Parkinson’s,
loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
never kissed me, but always shook my hand.
Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
was on the stereo. He listened with care—
brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
moving his right hand in time. He would have
risen to dance if he had known how.
“Beautiful,” he said when it was done,
my father, who’d never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
just in time he said, “That’s beautiful.”