It’s been eleven years now, and I still miss you. I think of you often, especially while I’m holding Courtney in my lap, reading stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and But No Elephants. When she follows along with the words to Geraldine’s Blanket, her long, blonde hair in pigtails, holding her blankie, I’m bombarded with images of us. I hold her the way that you held me, encourage her the way that you encouraged me, and love her the way that you loved me.
Every day, we listen to great songs by The Beatles, Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and The Eagles, and I introduce her to newer bands, like 10 Years, Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold, Art of Dying, and Five Finger Death Punch. I remember how you loved Humperdink, but how you put up with some of my bands like Guns N’ Roses, Damn Yankees, and later, Nirvana, just so you could be more involved with what interested me. Years ago, I heard about the time you were Christmas shopping, and you bought me two of the greatest albums ever made. I could picture the shock on your face when you saw the cover of Nevermind, (that’s tame these days) and I know you winced when you heard the Black album for the first time.
Along with great music, I teach her about books. You’d be so proud of the full-to-bursting bookshelves in my home. Classics and popular fiction, poetry and biography, plays and naturally, children’s books. When I see the careful way she holds them, reverent, turning pages ever so precisely, I remember the books that you bought me, and how much I loved them. I remember the way you fed my passion for books. I remember the time you saved the money that Grandpop gave you for things you needed, and how you spent it on a set of dinosaur books for me. I remember how you kept my most favorite novels, on the shelf next to yours, when I asked you to keep them from mom and her book ban. I remember how much she hated me reading, and I remember how you told me to never stop.
We read every day. Sometimes, when she won’t stop pestering me, I read her my assignments for school. I doubt she understands that she’s been exposed to some really great literature, like Steinbeck, Ibsen, O’Brien, Vonnegut, Frost, Plath, and Eliot, but I know. I know that I am imitating something good, something that I was taught by an amazing person with a special gift: you.
Yes, Gram, you were gifted. You were talented and influential. You loved me. You loved a little girl who probably drove you nuts with 10,000 questions per day. You encouraged a young child to learn everything she could, about everything she could. You taught her to expand her thoughts and reach for impossible dreams. You were my first teacher, and I think you deserve credit for all of the things I’ve accomplished.
Gram, I’m graduating from college in May! I’ve applied to graduate school, and even if I don’t get in, I’ll keep trying anyway. Not too shabby for a girl who grew up in a trailer, had a bum for a father, and a mom who went to ninth grade… I’ve published several pieces of my writing, too. The first acceptance letter I ever got made me nostalgic; I had clear visions of the stories I used to “write,” how you’d staple them together, put a title on them, and how you saved them until the day you died. I only hope that I can live up to the example you were.
I am the most influential person in my daughter’s life, the way that you were the most influential person in mine. She’ll remember that, even if she remembers nothing else. She’ll remember that someone will always accept her decisions, encourage her dreams, and dream them with her whenever possible. She’ll know that she has somewhere to go, the way I always went to you.
I miss you terribly. Those words seem so inadequate for the empty place I have in my life without you. Someday, I hope that I’ll get the chance to hug you again, throw my arms around your neck the way I did when I was little, and the way that Courtney does to me now. No matter how busy I am, I have never forgotten you. I have such a clear picture of you in my mind, and sometimes it’s as if I could extend a hand and touch you. If only I could reach…
I love you,
P.S. Could you give Donnie a hug for me? I think he knows how much I miss him, but it never hurts to say.