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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
May 28, 2017

Published as Family History
in a Gramma Letter
dated May 31, 1995

© 1995, 2017 by Bud Grossmann.
All Rights Reserved.

Grandmother in Red (1986)
  Grandmother in Red (1986)
© 1986 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, May 30, 1995

Dear Gramma,

Note: I drafted this letter with pen and paper, yesterday, on Memorial Day, when my family was visiting Frances’s brother Anthony and his family in Ewa Beach.

      In a lawn chair on the sidewalk in front of Ant & Sharon’s home, on a searingly sunny day, I sit sipping soda in the shade of a tree. I am supervising my seven-year-old, Elizabeth, and her somewhat younger cousin, Jeremy, as they pedal bicycles up and down the cul-de-sac.

      The shade tree, whose name I do not know, stands about twice the height of a man (or thrice the height of a Gramma Grossmann); its trunk is two fist-widths in diameter. Sprinkled throughout its lush leafage are thumbsized, trumpet-shaped, orange-colored blossoms. Because bees buzz in the blossoms, whenever I set my Coca-Cola can down I stuff a napkin in the can's opening. The Coke, just five minutes from the fridge, has warmed to luke.

      The tree’s leaves, some worm-nibbled, are heart-shaped, each one about as broad as my face, but they curl in on themselves, withering in this midday sun. Similar trees stand before the other look-a-lot-alike homes on this street.

      My son David, age thirteen, his knees and shins sunburned from two hours and more of yesterday’s Boy Scout duties of placing flags and flowers on graves in the National Cemetery, shares this shade with me. Dave has muscular dystrophy, you know, so he is sitting in his wheel chair, with the brakes set, and he’s operating a four-wheel-drive radio-controlled model truck on the street and sidewalks (and sometimes the flower beds) of this elegantly-named Nohoiho‘ewa Way.

      Except for the buzz of bees and the pulsing whine of David’s truck, the neighborhood is nearly silent. A brave breeze buffets the greenery, but the leaves are too weary to rustle; they only whisper their gratitude.

      Charcoal smoke is in the air. Anthony has fired up his barbecue to broil a marinated slab of beef that his sister Frances brought. When I went in the house for my Coke, the scent of cinnamon bread welcomed me. Sharon, the baker, welcomed me, too. I noticed a big salad, a pot of rice, and—chilling in the refrigerator—a home-baked cheesecake. I am happily hungry.

      A leaf, half the size of the ones I described earlier, drops onto my notebook. It is waxy and golden except where a smudge of delicate green clings around a worm hole. I run my thumb along the leaf surface and think of places where the year’s seasons change more dramatically than in Hawaii. I think of you, Gramma, a few years ago, on what could have been a Memorial Day but wasn’t.

      No holiday was required for a summer pilgrimage to the Cummings Family burial plot in Wyocena Cemetery. I took a photo of you as you stood, supported by your cane, among slabs of granite. The bright red of your sweater contrasted wonderfully with the green of grass dappled by sunlight streaming through maples.

      You were looking into the distance. Probably across the years to the distant past of your girlhood and then also in the other direction to what we call The Great Beyond. You knew I was taking pictures, Gram, but you ignored me until I came close to you, and then you advised me, “I don’t much care to have my picture taken, you know. Particularly in a graveyard.”

      “I’m sorry, Granny,” I lied. I wasn’t especially sorry. But then I told you the truth: “I can’t help taking pictures of you. You are just so beautiful. Even while you’re standing in a cemetery.”

      “Oh, pshaw!” you chuckled, your blue eyes bright. “I don’t believe you.” Then, glaring into my camera lens, you ordered me, “Put that thing away!” And I did. I put away my camera, and at this moment, I’m putting away my pen and paper. I just heard Anthony announce that the meat is cooked.

      I love you, Gramma, and I miss you mightily. I’m glad I have a few photos and a million memories.


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