Grandma Anna Love

I brought home two items from Anna’s place on Anthony Street : a steel tub and a small feather pillow, which my boys later named: Grandma Anna’s pillow.

They also dubbed our morning eggs: Grandma Anna eggs, because of the way my husband makes them just the way she made them; and then there was also: Grandma Anna’s shells, which weren’t actually hers at all, but another woman’s, named Annie, who owns a food line, but the boys refused to honor that distinction.

Anna lived in the Berkshires in an old home looking out at Mount Greylock. I loved to sit at her kitchen table, in front of the big picture window, with a cup of hot tea in our hands, taking in the mountain and talking about our days.

Sometimes we’d take ourselves out back to her Adirondack chairs, and stare across the right-of-way to Mrs. Mente’s majestic Maple as it blazed into Autumn.

“Maybe you’ll never have a baby,” Anna said to me as we soaked up the color around us, “but you have a good husband and good job, and that’s enough.”

It wasn’t enough for me, and Anna lived long enough to meet her great-grandson, but by the time he was old enough to know her, she was rapidly declining in health.

In the year before his birth, Anna was forced to leave the Berkshires to move in with family just after we had relocated to New England ourselves.

I remember the day we packed up Anna’s house. I was very pregnant at the time, and delighted to discover a small feather pillow that no one else claimed. I wasn’t sure how I’d use it, but that first night, I tucked it under my burgeoning belly and it helped me sleep.

Twenty years later, and I still sleep with that pillow, and I’d love to tell Anna about that, and about how my youngest son, who she never met, enjoys a small cup of coffee, with a lot of milk and sugar, just like she made for my husband in her kitchen when he was a boy.

“She likes you already,” he told me the first time we met.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“She made Boston butt,” he said, emphatically. (The last time he brought a girl up to the mountains to meet his grandmother, she had handed him some cash and sent them off to McDonald’s.)

We did get along well, Anna and I. Our conversations picked up with each season’s visit… summer, autumn, winter,  spring… talking our way through her long life and into my twenty-something years.

Anna welcomed my family into her home too: my youngest siblings on long weekend getaways; and my sister and her family when they were driving through. There was always tea, and Oreos in the canister, sweet bread in the drawer, and Keilbasa from the German butcher on the stove.

Years later, Anna danced at my wedding, and when we visited her as a married couple, she insisted that we take her bed; which makes me remember of an earlier trip when I asked about sleeping with her grandson.

Grandma Anna's Barrel 9 months pregnant
Grandma Anna’s Barrel
9 months pregnant

“Anna, how would you feel if Casey and I stayed together in same room?”

It was a couple years into our relationship (and a handful of visits later) when I suggested that Casey simply ask his grandmother if we could share a room so that we didn’t have to sneak out back on those cold Berkshire nights. He refused, appalled at the impropriety, and so I went ahead and asked myself.

“Don’t do anything, I wouldn’t do,” she replied.

(ps. I was 22 when I first met Anna, and then a decade older–and 9 months pregnant–in this photo with my feet soaking in her barrel. Later it became a tub for my boys. And most recently, on my 50th birthday, we stocked Anna’s barrel with bottles of champagne.)

the apology

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Musuem

Today, I had to craft a paragraph about Hiroshima for an international meeting that will be held in Japan this spring. Though it will be my first time in this country, I’ve long felt a kinship for its people.

As I researched the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, I felt myself swallowing hard, despite the fact that I’d already apologized. Once. To a young woman named Seiko.

In the spring of 2007, Seiko and I were among 25 students preparing for our Let Your Yoga Dance instructor certification in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

One steamy June afternoon, she and I strolled down the access road to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, beneath its canopy of foliage, each taking a turn talking and then listening.

On our way back, Seiko and I chose to pause at a resting spot beside a thickly-trunked tree. We took a seat on the bench there, and Seiko turned toward me, saying, shyly:

“Kelly, can I ask you a favor?”

“What is it, Seiko?” I said.

“Will you sing for me?”

I laughed and looked quizzically at my new friend, and she quickly explained that she wanted to practice her dance prayer but hadn’t been able to find a recording of the song she selected.

“Here?” I said, looking at the grass and the tree.

Seiko nodded, hopefully, her eyes shining.

I wanted to decline, to say that I’d help her find it online, but how could I turn down this soul, so earnest and kind.

Before I could meet Seiko’s request, however, I felt something bubbling up inside. Something raw and painful and necessary.

“I need to say something to you, first,” I said.

“What is it, Kelly?” Seiko asked.

My voice was trembling when I spoke.

“I want to apologize for dropping the atomic bomb…  on your country.”

“What?” Seiko said. “I don’t understand, Kelly.”

Tears filled my eyes as I repeated those horrible words, and then Seiko took my hands in hers.

“Kelly. You don’t have to apologize for that. You and I weren’t even born.”

“I needed to speak those words to someone from your country,” I explained.

Seiko’s response was whispered through her own tears.

“No one has ever apologized to me for this before,” she said. “Thank you, Kelly.”

And there, under the arms of that magnificent tree in the soft grass of early June, I began to sing…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow…

and Seiko danced for me.