This will be the first in a series of 5 short articles.
Kathryn is my grandmother.
Above–her home in the 40s. She kept chickens out back.
She washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. About kidding around, “There’s a little bit of truth in every joke.” Meaning: jokes are hurtful. Barbed jabs meant to demean and humiliate. Laughter is a luxury. Feelings are downright obscene.
She is a force of will.
Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times.
She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress were those spent in a factory during WW2.
She wears sensible shoes. Always. Black leather with a low heel. The kind that deform feet into fleshy, pink lobster claws.
She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those ears have heard ten thousand centuries. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings. She has ten thousand clip earrings. Never wears them.
Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Those dark beads saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.
There’s a picture of her when she was 5. Small. Golden. Tiny, pursed lips. Serious. Head cocked. Like a dog listening to a child practice the clarinet. Droopy earlobe kissing the receiver of an old-fashioned candlestick phone. Impossible. I only knew her as a crinkled crank in her 80s.
A very handsome young girl. She marries in her teens. Only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the Depression, Dust Bowl and war. She raises and kills chickens with her hands. She milks the cow (the one they could keep from the lost farm). She sews. She cleans (not well). She cooks.
She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way.
She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself. She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.
She works hard because everyone is counting on her.
If I stop moving, I’ll die.
These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the feeding frenzy and bloodbath.
She dies from heart failure.