I'm reading a journal my great-grandmother kept in 1977. I can't tell you what it means to run my hands over these pages, many that were probably last touched by her hand. There are times I am afraid I've forgotten my Granny, or that I've somehow made her into something she wasn't because that's what we sometimes do when we need something larger than ourselves to cling to.
But it's all here. There were long stretches I was with her and my grandmother Jo every day because my teenage mother worked. When Mom worked nights, I spent the night, and when I spent the night, I slept with Granny, probably long before anybody thought to call it co-sleeping. I like to think our souls sort of smudged together because that’s how it feels and also because I believe something like this happens when you co-sleep, that there are ways we merge that have nothing to do with spoken language or conscious intent. Did I mention that I have a little girl now too?
This journal tells me Granny was funny:
…Bro Will got awful sleepy driving so did Opal. I didn’t get sleep Boy! I watched them and watch the road. I sure would make a good chuffer, huh But Lord took care of us.
I don't remember any jokes, but I feel like I can hear her laugh and that she did so a lot.
This journal tells me she loved to fish. That I know because she passed it down. I grew up on the banks of creeks, rivers, and tanks, fishing by myself, a dog at my side, usually. The last several times I’ve fished, I’ve found I’ve lost the heart for it, catch and release feeling too cruel. We grow up and we grow old and sometimes we grow so far away from who we were that it feels that maybe we live a few short lifetimes on earth and not one (hopefully) long one.
The journal shows her command of English was pretty good but not great. I remember that. It doesn’t tell you how she felt that neither of her children and none of her fourteen grandchildren spoke fluent Cherokee. It doesn't tell you how it felt when she wrapped you up in her arms, or held you up to the sink so you could run water over the poke salad your cousins Shannon and Bruce picked, but it reminds you that you come from a big, close family—a tribe.
Our lives used to be so entwined that it was hard to tell where one’s life ended and another's began, so different from the transitory existence I’ve chosen where you hardly have time to get your neighbor’s name before you up and find new ones. I have slept atop a volcano, married, spied upon a cinnamon bear doing a backstroke, seen Elvin Jones at the Blue Note, divorced, danced myself silly in second lines, been zapped by prophets, married, and slipped alone and unseen into a crater lake so black in the night that it seemed there might not be a bottom. I’ve seen so much as I ran so far. There is so much we have lost, so much we have to lose.