When I was in high school, I carved out a piece of my humanities education to study stained glass windows, old cathedrals of European kingdoms, and the men who made them fine—medieval artists smelling strong of a long day’s labor, Middle Age wet mortar, and musty, dark communion wine. These men made beauty meant to age, with secret dyes that centuries of chemists in white lab coats have not yet learned to redesign that grow bolder and brighter year after year of sun and dust and time—years longer than any artist can survive. The moment those windows were made was the moment they were most decayed, and that is all the artist ever saw, and every generation watched the colors slowly come alive.
My own sunlit halls of memory are not segmented in perfect cuts of colored glass but blurred in pink and white calico, my face pressed up against the apron you always wore when you were in the kitchen—smelling either of fresh-brewed, hot mint tea or taco meat, depending on what you just made for me—and your old living room is filled with Christmas gifts, wrapped, colored bright, to open soon, mysterious to me as tumbled piles of old medieval stone.
Your sacred intercession for me all those years, starting from before I was born, is still carrying me home.Hannah Hubin
I remember sitting in your living room in my turquoise one-piece fleece pajamas with the teddy bear embroidered on the right shoulder, forcing my bare toes into the loose, unraveling weave of your couch, watching Little House on the Prairie reruns on the Hallmark channel. Except we never made it very far into the episode because all I ever wanted to see was the opening scene, when little Sidney Greenbush playing Carrie face-plants into the field. I thought it was cute, and I guess you thought I was too, because you would stand behind me, leaning over against the back of the couch, with the old TiVo remote in your hand for a good several minutes, rewinding the opening over and over again. I didn’t know when I was four how well-acquainted of a person I would become with falling down, but maybe you did. Anyhow, I’ve always known you didn’t mind.
In the autumn, we went to the pumpkin patch and had our picture taken with a scarecrow wearing a Cubs shirt. On Saturday mornings, we pulled out the newspaper, circled the ads, and went to all the garage sales listed, you and me and my mom: three generations, centuries removed from medieval cathedrals, rummaging through garages to find something beautiful.
We both know I could be a perfect devil as a little girl—fully-equipped with a pink and purple My Little Pony Pitchfork—and for the sake of Mom’s sanity and the paint on our walls, you would come over in the afternoons and sit me down next to one of Mom’s overflowing laundry baskets and match socks with me and talk to me and listen to me talk.
Sometimes we had tea, and I still drink coffee out of your old china often, sometimes when I write, like this.
We took a lot of walks together, I remember that. I remember one walk later on, towards the end. Still, even that close, I don’t think I knew you were sick. I remember we walked to the end of the subdivision we shared, and when we came to the last house, I sat my stubborn butt down on the sidewalk and told you I was too tired to walk back and proceeded into a good summary of how difficult my life was at five years old. You must have been very weary by then. Everyone I’ve ever talked to knows chemo is exhausting.
You carried me home on your back.
Until I grew up and started trying to be “literary”—whatever that means—you were the only person I knew who wrote poetry. It’s how you prayed for grandkids. I might be a little less stubborn and a little less lazy than that little girl plopped down on the sidewalk—maybe—but I know your sacred intercession for me all those years, starting from before I was born, is still carrying me home.
I think about you a lot, and how I was given your name and your dark hair, how your care of me for the few years our two lives overlapped continues to press into me and hem around me and push me on into something more of grace than I ever could have sought out on my own. I think often of who you were as a grandmother, a poet, a cook, an artist: sleeves rolled, apron on, making beautiful the ancient art of loving people you would never live to see grow old.
And though it’s been, I guess, just fifteen years of sun and dust and time since you first left us for the old and high cathedral of the sky, I’ve seen enough to say: the grey is now an azure shade, and I wish you could be told that all your yellow has been turning gold.