Angela Amman

A Radiance of Cardinals

a tribute to my grandmother

our Nan, surrounded by some of her great-grandchildren (and my mom)

She’s woven into the fabric of my earliest memories: warmth and hugs, and a tinkling laugh that coaxed smiles from everyone around her. I’m not sure, truthfully, how many of those memories are my own or how many she made real by telling stories again and again of playing dentist with her mouthwash — we never swallowed it, according to Nan — or eating all of the Hershey kisses out of her Christmas cookies.

I do know the memories of her house are mine: leaning back on carpeted stairs and pretending to “watch a movie” on the slanted ceiling, being amazed each time her red lava lamp morphed into new shapes. I remember walking from her house to the corner store, where we purchased Swedish fish and mini jawbreakers with coins and safely tucked the candy into brown paper bags to take with us on the walk home.

Later, I remember seeing that house on Caledonia Street and being surprised at its size. I remembered it larger. My whole world fit in that house; our visits filled with aunts and uncles, cousins and friends and love, Nan always bustling in the background making sure everyone had enough to eat, the first one wiping down counters or soaping dishes. Like her home, she filled more space than you might think when you first saw her small stature. Her spirit and sparkle surrounded those in her presence and brought a sense of familiarity, unconditional love, and so much comfort.

Over the years, my family visited her in many different ways, with so many different people. We drove to her in a van filled with friends, long before car seats meant you couldn’t pile seven people into the backseat. Donnie and I visited by plane, our parents back in Michigan. We took pickup trucks and the first ever Caravan. Later, we drove to her in a rented minivan, this time with my own children tucked into car seats and awaiting her welcoming arms. No matter how we arrived or who we brought along, she hugged and kissed and fussed and made us feel so loved. “Just call me Nan,” she’d say to my friends when they’d attempt to call her “Mrs. Fiedler.” And they did, because she never made anyone feel like a stranger.

She added celebration and brightness to our lives. Holiday-themed pet beds for Maverick and my dad’s favorite dinner when we’d visit and Christmas villages that live on, in part, in my own Christmas décor. She added flowers to tables and potted violets to her windowsill, making beauty tangible and making each moment just a little more special.

Nan held babies. She cooed and rocked and swayed with them, and when she grew older and her knees didn’t permit the same mobility, she held them in her arms and whispered to them to quiet their worries. She’d rock them while holding a conversation with whomever sat on her other side, pausing to kiss a sleeping forehead or gently hush a restless squirm. Nan kept our family’s stories, and she brought those memories back to life with her love for us all. Losing the keeper of your stories breaks your heart in a million ways, knowing her voice will never laugh life into your memories. Those memories, those family ties, belong to us now, but their sweetness feels tempered without her voice.

She embodied sparkle and shine and red shoes, and she brought that with her wherever she went. Spending time with her never felt like a vacation or an escape. Whenever we left her, whether leaving the house on Caledonia, Alice Street or her cardinal-filled apartment in the Windlands, I felt like I was leaving home. Leaving someone so special hurt my heart, every single time. Leaving her hurts my heart now.  We love you, and we always will.

(I read this at Nan’s memorial this weekend. I’m so grateful for the love and support of my family and friends.) 

The gratitude project: Day twenty-nine

Gratitude projectGratitude list: Holding hands

Day twenty-nine is a misnomer, really. I fell behind, and then we lost our beloved Nan. I didn’t feel much like writing for a few days. Those days stretched forward into the last sputters and bursts of summer days, and I stayed away from this space. I missed it and returned and hope to be here more frequently in the fall. Maybe not daily, though, because that feels like pressure instead of joy.

They don’t always walk in step. Especially as August days dwindle into September, with summer camps behind us and the looming routine of school ahead, they pick on each other. She vacillates between child and tween, and he’s not always sure which sister he’ll get when she speaks. He vacillates between the obedient little brother she’s always known and the goofy but focused person coming into himself. She isn’t accustomed to his assertions of independence any more than he is to making them, so they clash and crash seemingly minute to minute.

Yet they dance back to each other. They sing and stage Hamilton numbers and ride bikes, play board games and incorporate LEGO and American Girls into the same games so they can play together. I can see their relationship knitting together in a way that doesn’t belong to me at all.

I yearn for them to find that footing. It breaks my heart to be outside it.

My heart pieces itself back together and grows even more full when I see moments like this, hands held without us urging it.

Not too long enough, hand holding felt like a lifeline. Stay together. Hold mama’s hand. OK, hold your sister’s hand. Don’t walk too far ahead. I need to be able to see you. Stay together. Stay together. Stay together.

I still yell that at times, as they careen out of sight on bikes or weave too far ahead of us in a busy place. I saw it less, though, and see them doing it on their own, the togetherness. They enjoy each other in a way I couldn’t force if I tried but feel so lucky to witness.

 

The gratitude project: Day twenty-eight

gratitude project

making bodily noises with his hands in between sinking my ships

Gratitude list: Battleship

Pretend play fails to hold my attention many days. I try to play when asked, especially because I realize how fleeting their worlds of make-believe are. And I relish the times the game evolves and becomes a conversation about friends or something bothering them or something they love.

Still, most days that magical bonding zone eludes me, and my mind wanders. I think of tasks I should be doing when I’m supposed to be a villain plotting my escape from a LEGO jail or walking a fluff of an American Girl pet to the pet salon.

Board games, though, hold my attention. Some days I have to play with my laptop on the table next to me, and the kids understand that, because the majority of my focus is turned toward them. In fact, I find myself abandoning work tasks because our games start moving too quickly to keep up with both.

We’ve always liked games, but I loved the transition from Chutes and Ladders to Clue, from Candyland to Battleship.

Dylan takes Battleship seriously. He sets up his board quickly, and makes sure it’s hidden from view if I need to get up to refill my water or grab him one of his constantly-needed snacks.

My own Battleship strategy needs a little tweaking. I guess a little randomly and a little by intuition, and that’s not really how the game works.

He guesses methodically and carefully, something I only realized late into one game as he systematically picked off my boats as I kept stabbing for his in the dark. Even though he’ll still curl against my side during reading time, he pumps his fists in triumph when he beats me.

I guess I have a little strategizing to learn.

The gratitude project: Day twenty-seven

gratitude projectGratitude list: Minecraft and little boy hands

I talked a little about what keeps Abbey busy when she’s exhausted summer-like activities. Despite her insistence on teaching him her favorite slime-making methods, Dylan’s only interested in making a new batch once every four times she invites him into her laboratory — otherwise known as the kitchen island.

When he needs a break from activities, he wanders over and asks, “Can I play Minecraft?” Sometimes, he can’t wait until I’m finished with a conference call, and he’ll draw me a little picture, complete with zombies and Steves, a note across: Can I play Minecraft now?

We don’t have a gaming system yet, something he reminds me about frequently, but we added Minecraft to an old desktop computer sitting on our dining room table. He presses buttons and moves around and builds. Faced with parents who don’t have a clue how any of it really works, he watches YouTube kids’ videos about how to get through obstacles or tricky situations.

He’ll talk about it incessantly some days.

Like slime, it surprises me a little that I find myself grateful for Minecraft, for a game that involves sitting in front of a computer instead of kicking a ball or soaking in the sun shining on our short summer season.

But he does more than play the game in front of the computer.

He builds LEGO scenes based on Minecraft. Of course, LEGO has Minecraft sets. LEGO knows its audience has a penchant for building and a weakness for certain types of pop culture.

He makes his own, too, though. He incorporates other characters into those scenes sometimes, and I see his make-believe world building skills shaping his time in the same way his sister plays with her beloved American Girl dolls.

Not all of the influence is purely positive. Left to his own devices, he’ll grab one of our phones and make a video of himself playing with his sets, much like the ones he’s come across while looking for help on the video game. His (imaginary) YouTube channel would be filling up quickly if it were real.

Even those, though, make me smile. I upload them to my computer, making a note to back up to the external drive. I want to capture this stage, to remember it when he’s moved past pretend play and videos only seen by a few eyes. His little voice comes through clearly, even when he’s not on the video. I marvel at his small hands, fingers hovering between the baby ones I once held and the deft, sure tools that craft his world.

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