The garage door came alive once.  All on its lonesome.  One blast from a thunderhead and it succumbed to mechanical fits, slapping the driveway and rolling like eyes back to the rafters, possessed in its wire veins by a white flicker from the sky.

It was a thunderstorm of the furious sort that tumble and convect over country in the northern Great Plains.  My two older brothers and I gawked at the sheet rain thrashing the windows of our green rambler in Austin, near the Iowan border.  I remember the sky greening with dusk.  The humid inhale and the stillness.  As our world twisted away from the sun, and moved through the checkered casts of summer evening, the storm laced its gloves and settled low.  Our parents were away for the evening, and Grandma Mickey had come for the night.

Grandma, Jello shot
We were safe with her.  Guarded and secure in the tumult.  But this is not a story about comfort.  We stood in the open doorway of the garage, we four, and watched the giant door tantrum.  The light strobed, the rain grabbed in at us, the country ditches were running.  We didn't try to control any of it.  Grandma Mickey wasn't a sentinel or an old teddy bear. Her angel was the dealer of turbulence, the watcher and bringer of mischief.  

You move through some adventures.  You pursue a hidden flag in the woods and by your wile you grasp it, and make a lighted break for home.  Others, though, you find yourself the right spot to sit down in the trees, and stay still enough to pay attention.  You make yourself a witness to magnitude.

Grandma's hugs didn't smell like kitchens of fresh bread danced lightly by yeast or crushed rosemary.  Not even bad perfume.  Inhaling grandma was swallowing six decades of Pall Mall Orange by the carton.  It was breathing the octave bounce of jazz bars and the cold plexi-rumble of hockey arenas.  It was a modern woman who never drove and for whom a lot of fellas bought drinks.  It was Vegas blackjack and hitting to the dealer's two 'cause, to let the man have all that space to take her money made her nervous.  It was a full life.  Not 'full' like dying at an appropriate age, having reached one hundred percent of duration.  It was full as in thoroughly stocked, seam stretching, love and betrayal and family and god, flirtations with beaus and big cities and apostasy and joy and grief.  Watching her friends die and her grandchildren marry.  Smelling grandma, now, will be my own awareness of not knowing much, the chronological equivalent of myopia.  Her skin was frail for most of the time I remember her.  Particularly of course, toward the end.  Because this, by necessity, is also a story of inelasticity.  Of personalities especially, but also of lungs and the ways our choices age with us, in our tissues.

I inherited some things from gram.  The proudest of those that I can hold is a colored pencil nine by thirteen, sketched in '72 by an artist named Johnson.  It is a collapsing country house, weary-kneed and alone on the near crest of a wintered knoll.  It's buckled inward and twisted on the chassis.  The solarium's glass face is battered by vandals or the inevitables of abandon and while I'm not sure of the geography, the narrow pines in the wide field behind it look like the midnight Minnesota countryside I ran as a teenager.  Vines crawl brick and cracked frame, making their way to the roof where a stone chimney sits improvised like an awed traveler's forgotten cairn.  It is decrepit and heavy.  It is the starkness of winter, the knowledge of cold and the void of past companionship.  And I wonder, those nights alone, what music Marcia listened to, when she really wanted to look at it.  When she wanted to take it down off the wall, and sit on the carpet in the corner and, holding it in both of her clubbed-finger hands, wanted to swear at it, to snarl and spit, to rattle its thin shoulders and ask it, "Why the hell do you matter?"  I bet the music I choose is different, but not really.

Grandma was grandma for a long time.  But then grandma became gram.  And gram had secrets.  Juicy ones.  Secrets I can only recount over whiskey and the thin striping-upward of a stubborn gray twist like that which came from the candled ends of grandma's fags, which became grandma herself - The Stubborn Gray Twist.  Her transformation didn't happen quickly.  Suspiciously, it happened at exactly the pace of my growing up.  Right now Irv Williams' saxophone is bouncing around the walls of our house, and that was step one.  Can you understand closing your eyes and wetting your lips to a saxophone croon in the basements of St Paul jazz clubs?  Then you understand the class of Mickey.  Of modest means and serious opinion, the woman there has a strange clutch on culture.  She'll choose the St Paul Hotel restaurant and the Sonic drive-in on Robert Street in the same damn week, but rest assured, she'll complain about the quality of meat equally, at both.  My eyes have seen the glory of grandma on the back deck smoking in the feathered hood of a shin length parka, and in my head I have the run-around tales of a young woman not put-off by vulgarity and one who would come to detest bullshit. Or, at least that of others.

Some adventures you stop running.  Some of them you sit and you look.  It's best then, I have found, to listen closely.

One afternoon, in 2010, I was at grandma's apartment on Delaware Street, in Mendota Heights.  The Peterson family was in the midst of migration.  To the foothills and mountains of Colorado, from the Oregon high desert to the Seattle coast.  We ate Domino's.  She was duly impressed by their new crust and refurbished image.  We drank red wine.  Grandma's apartment was zigged with small gauge oxygen tubing while still dotted by the occasional ash tray.  She was careful, she assured me.

In the corner near the sliding door, she'd propped her newest drawing.  We ate our pizza on paper plates that sogged quickly and rested our meal on ottomans and end tables.  We looked out her balcony window at a patch of trees too small for Google maps but large enough.  Large enough.  We made our trade in stories.  We compared what we knew about being young.  And we found ourselves in the dark.  We watched the sun set on the outer reaches of South St Paul and having needed no light in the afternoon, slowly faded to a dimmed apartment. By the end, we submitted the gentle confessions of two people who are, at their base, profoundly grateful to have the other's presence, if unsure of the feeling's mutuality.  These are the adventures you sit down for.

It's in the most wicked of storms and liquor kissed music venues that I'm surest to think of gram.  I'm not likely to wish her peace in her rest.  I suppose she'd rather take truth from me, an honest history's telling.

Here you are gram.

We could all use more glasses of wine near windowed sunsets with our beloved grandmothers.  We could all use more unanticipated friendship, more unexpected love, more of the stories we really remember about ourselves, more of the memories that bare our honest histories onward.

In all the ways that matter it would be better if I could get to know this place in the same way I got to know you.  Honesty instead of protocol, a few frank conversations, recognizing a mutual appreciation for beauty.  I love you as the holidays descend on us, as I always love you.  

May your paths be alight with snow, and jazz, and the love of your grandson.

- Erik

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