My grandmother – my Amah, I’ve always called her – isn’t well. She’s 85, and she recently took yet another spill.
My dad’s been by her side in the hospital for the past several weeks. I did call, right after it happened. I put on a sweet 30-year-old grandchild smile and told her she looked great, just great, and then I hung up and I cried and cried.
Visiting isn’t a practical option – I live across the Atlantic Ocean. What I do have is my little words, and so I’ve been writing to her, almost every day. She can’t move her arms to use her tablet, so my dad’s been reading them out loud.
Letters to Amah
The first couple emails were emotional, telling her how much she means to me, how I see her in myself. But they quickly morphed into simple journaling of my days. During the week, that mostly means telling her about what’s happening at The Book of Everyone. And of course I mentioned the social campaign I’ve been running for Mother’s Day, #mumstories.
In case you haven’t tuned in to it yet, #mumstories started from asking folks around the office to tell a story about their mum. What makes her different from other mums? What special things did she do for you as a kid?
From there, we seeded a Facebook post that asked the same questions to followers of ours and their friends. We got our in-house designer Martino Pannofino to illustrate as many as he could, too – you can check out the whole collection just here.
I didn’t even think to ask my Amah.
Unsurprisingly, she’s several steps ahead of me.
A recording, a recollection
Yesterday, I got a message from my dad with a 24-minute audio recording attached. Feeling the tears coming on, I poured myself a glass of wine.
It was my Amah, telling story after story about her own mother.
She started off by telling me about one day when she “woke up with a thought that kept going through [her] head.” It turned out to be a line from a poem that her mom had read to her as a little girl. After a little reflection, she remembered the whole thing and recited it to me, word for word. Then she followed it up with two more, which she had committed to memory over seventy years ago.
And then she just kept talking. She told me about the various houses that her family grew up in, and the different jobs that her mom took to make ends meet. That the family lived through a hurricane. And that her mother was a Girl Scout leader for many years, and even a plane spotter in Philadelphia during the war.
I remember being a child, and my grandmother telling me stories of her family – our family – people I had never met and didn’t understand how they were connected to me. I remember that her stories would mostly go in one ear and out the other, and me wanting to live in the now instead, the rich immediacy of my own life.
And – corny as it may seem – doing this #mumstories project with The Book of Everyone has really prodded me into understanding my own family’s stories in a new way.
I think about my Amah’s words in conjunction with the heartfelt collection that came out of asking many, many people who are strangers to me. I think about how it must feel to her, now old and in bed, to think back and consider her own mother.
It’s easy enough for me to ask strangers to share their stories, but I’m still reeling a bit from receiving one unexpectedly connected to me.