Sat 31 Mar 2007
when i was a little girl, my elderly grandmother and i spent a lot of time together…just she and i and a series of star-crossed cats she had whose names i – the name-obsessed – can never quite recall.
my grandmother was born in 1904. she married late, at the spinsterish age of thirty-four, a thin, solid-legged woman in a cap of black hair that became a blue-gray coldwave perm long before i came on the scene. she and her husband raised my mother – only child of the younger brother of this woman i called Nannie – from the time my mother was about seven…but my grandmother never had children of her own, really, until me. her husband died two years before my birth. my father left in my infancy. somewhere in the mess of those abruptly altered lives, she and my mom and i became an odd but complete family. we mostly lived in separate houses, across town from each other, but i spent my lunch hours and my after-schools and my summers with her, in her world of little old ladies, while my mother worked.
i got the best of her, this woman launched into widowhood and independence unwillingly, this timid, proper pillar of her own narrow world…dry and provincial and shy in public. in the house she’d been born in, alone with me, she laughed and played dress-up, and told jokes, and listened to lies and stories tumbling from my imagination for hours on end. she let me love her with my whole heart.
and my Nannie, who was not one to reflect deeply on change, gave me more of an Edwardian childhood than anyone born in the 1970s had any right to have. i am a fount of ancient Scottish pudding recipes and proverbs regarding appropriate behaviour, a vessel of hymns no church has sung for generations, and a sentimental repository of quaint sayings and folk rhymes that decorate the calendar of my mind, announcing themselves every time the month changes or a holiday of the British Empire rolls around.
March was always my favourite. every year, on the first and last day of the month, my grandmother and i pontificated on the weather like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. “If March comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb,” we’d intone in unison. “If it comes in like a lamb, it’ll go out like a lion.” then we’d drag back the (sheer) curtains with high drama, already knowing full well what the weather was outside, and squeal “lion!” or “lamb!” and dissolve in fits of laughter. if you have never seen a good Protestant lady in her eighties mimic the curling hooves and “baaa” of a lamb, or watched an otherwise too-cool-for-school preteen roar like a lion for her grandmother’s amusement, you truly have not lived.
my grandmother has been gone for almost seven years. the seven years before she spent struggling fiercely against death and the loss of the independence she’d never wanted foisted on her in the first place. it has been fifteen years or longer since we played our game. but i think of her, always, on the first and thirty-first of every March, and i miss her like i cannot say.
so today Oscar and i made March go out like a lion.
it’s fitting. he started the month on hands and knees, still my baby lamb. now he’s fully upright, roaring his own independence more everyday. i told him today that he was March, going out like a lion. and we pulled back the curtains to watch the snow, and i laughed until he joined in. and i smiled and gave thanks for him, and for my Nannie, who taught me.
i will do my best to pass on bits and scraps of an anachronous, coddled Edwardian childhood to him. it is the legacy i have to give.