We parked in front of Grandma's tiny home and piled out of the car, the grownups heading straight for the porch. I lagged behind on the footbridge with my cousin; Poo swore she was not going to step a foot closer to that spooky place.
Grandma's house was gray, the gray of a dead oak branch still clinging to a tree full of green. That's what it reminded me of, because it sat nestled in the middle of her fig trees, her rose bushes, her gardens. To say she had a green thumb was like saying Jesus was a good swimmer. Grandma could grow anything.
Grandma was also blind. Someone had strung a rope between her flower beds so she could feel her way around to tend them. Heck, she might have strung it up herself, somehow. I only knew her then as a child knows a great-grandmother, which means about as much as you can know about a story from looking at the outside of a book, but over the years I learned she was smart, proud, stubborn, and unafraid of hard work. Unafraid, period.
While the grownups climbed the rickety steps and disappeared into the darkness of the fragile house, I tried to convince Poo it wasn't haunted.
I understood her wariness, though. It was hard to believe anyone lived in that weary place. If any paint had ever brightened those gray boards, time and weather had long ago stripped any evidence of it.
And I knew the inside wasn't much better. Unlike Poo, who lived far away, we lived just over the Ship Channel, and every few Sundays we'd drive through the tunnel to pay Grandma a visit. I dreaded it because of the smell of gas and old that slapped you in the face when you first stepped through the door, and the tiny bugs I could see crawling in and out of the old-fashioned key holes. We had cockroaches hiding in the dark places of our home (like everyone else in that area, including the rich) so I wasn't judging her. I just didn't like it.
Also, Grandma was blind, but not bashful. Merly, she'd say to my mom, how old is this girl now? Then using her hands she'd give me a thorough checking out (wink, wink) to see if my development matched my reported age.
Oh, another thing. Grandma dipped snuff and kept a spit jar handy.
Yes, I dreaded the visits.
But, still, I knew it was safe to go inside, and I knew we should at least make an appearance. She wasn't a soft, sweet-smelling, gushing-over-grandchildren kind of grandma - her cover was pretty worn and ragged, her face full of angles below a wild nest of white hair, her eyes cloudy yet intense - but she was our Grandma, nevertheless. Well, great-grandma, and great-great grandma, respectively.
There wouldn't be much to see once we crossed the threshold. I only remember three rooms: a bedroom to the left, a kitchen straight ahead, and the main room you step into from outside, and all I remember about the main room is a table where Grandma's record player sat (along with her spit jar.) The Lighthouse for the Blind sent her an audio record of the complete Bible, and my mother told me Grandma listened to it every day.
(I didn't know this at the time, but my older sister used to visit Grandma separately, sometimes taking her friends along. They loved visiting with this feisty old lady who'd outlived a whole century. I kick myself now for not spending more time with Grandma myself.)
These thoughts and memories popped into my head yesterday when my eyes began to ache. I had been staring at the computer screen for hours. That's not unusual. I stare at the computer screen for hours every day, sometimes up to 15 hours, with small breaks in between.
And my eyes start aching every day; sometimes they twitch and spasm, and that reminds me to do my eye exercises, staring out the window at something far away, focusing on objects at different distances... but more and more it reminds me of Grandma. Of her blindness.
I'm not sure what caused her to lose her sight. I've heard she was an avid reader, just like me, and would devour books by gas light. Family legend said that's what did it, reading in dim light, but modern medicine has taken away that excuse.
Could it just be heredity, some stray renegade gene? I hope not. Don't want to think of that.
Aside from my eye exercises and trying to eat healthy, I don't think there's anything I can do to prevent it anyway. My job requires me to stare at a computer screen for hours, and in my spare time I'm a writer, staring at yet another screen. And that's that.
I can only hope that, if I do inherit Grandma's eyes, I also inherit her spirit that refused to let her blindness keep her from the things she loved.
This post is my response to the Red Dress Club’s memoir prompt of writing about a memory and what it means to us. At first I couldn't think of anything meaningful, but that's the beauty of these prompts - they start you thinking. And writing. Click the button below to read the other writers' contributions.