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Trying to Be Accurate

I’m coming to you from the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writing Conference, and I’m posting something that I think is a little bit of a corrective. A little bit back, I posted about sweets and my grandmothers. Perhaps that post was a little bit–ahem–saccharine. One of the themes that has emerged so far this week has been about the accuracy of one’s writing as an antidote to sentimentality and melodrama. So in that spirit, I’m posting a somewhat different view of my Grandmother Roney here.


My grandmother starts pulling the peanuts out of her pocket and munching them before we even order our food at one of the most expensive restaurants in Boston. My brother, just graduated from college, looks around the room as though to see whether any of his fancy classmates might also be here.

“Mother, what are you doing?” my father asks her. It comes out like a hiss, like air escaping a blown tire.

“Nothing,” she says, and folds her hands in her lap. She looks down at them there in her crotch, utterly still.

My father shakes his head and goes back to the menu. My mother pats my grandmother’s hand. For once, I side with my dad. Grandmother kept me up all night snoring in the hotel room. Next she will be explaining to the waiter all the foods that would make her break out in hives. She will even bat her eyelashes at him, as though she could make up for my grandfather’s leaving her with my six-year-old father all those years ago. She will be sneaking those peanuts from her polyester pant suit pocket all through the meal, as though we can’t see her.


Two years later, Grandmother and I stand in line to the India pavilion, panting under the excoriating sun of July. Five-foot-one to my nearly five-eight (I never called it five-seven-and-a-half), she’s struggled to keep up with me as I escort her around the World’s Fair. She’s been talking about other World’s Fairs she attended in years past. Seattle. Montreal. Whatever.

“It sure is hot,” my grandmother says to the couple standing in front of us.

“You can say that again,” the man says. He says it doesn’t get this humid in Dubuque.

“I could sure use another of those lemonades,” she says, still looking at the man.

The line isn’t moving, so I run to get another lemonade for her. When I get back, they might be done small-talking. But, no.

“You should meet my grandson,” she is saying. “He’s such a good-looking young fella, and he went to Harvard.”

The man has started to mop his forehead with a handkerchief and look away, but she goes on about my brother’s bright future—never mentioning that I have even more recently graduated from a fine school myself. I hold her lemonade.


At last, twenty-seven years later, I will forgive all the men—every last one of them—for being so perfect in her long-dead eyes, and get married. I will tell all my single women friends that I will love them as much as always. I will raise a toast to my grandmother, the woman I couldn’t see and who couldn’t see me.

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