Familial Fauna

This morning, when I left for work on time, hydrated and with an almost-healthy lunch in hand, I felt for a moment like I had my shit together. It was a great feeling. I, by and large, am still floundering around trying to pull myself together, but it runs in the family. My innate sense of disaster, along with my love of nature, inspired a piece that was recently published by Sleet Magazine, “Grandmother Rose.” Feel free to read it below. Sleet put out another piece that I wrote in their most recent issue – I’ll put a link at the bottom.

Grandmother Rose

My Grandmother Rose annoyed my parents in the same way I did. She was too messy, too scatterbrained, and too unpredictable. The things about my Grandmother Rose that annoyed my parents endeared her to me. We were kindred spirits – gross, disorganized ones.

That’s why, when I was brought down to Arkansas to visit her, she did not get cross with me for bringing toads from her backyard inside to swim in the bathroom sink. She waved my mother off, when she was squawking at me for patting the toads dry with my grandmother’s “nice washcloths.” To me, fluffy pink washcloths made perfect toad towels.

My grandmother did not scold me several years later, when I wandered out of visitation for some recently-deceased elder, to pick ticks off of a stray dog in the parking lot of the funeral home. The dog didn’t seem to mind my dalliance, either. And the fact that no one noticed I was missing for a solid thirty minutes only reinforced to me that the dog was more important than the make-pretend and stiff hugging of visitation.

As I grew older, I became more aware of why my parents would get so exasperated with me. I instinctively blushed when I saw my school folders overflowing with papers, and I knew that I should hide the way my socks never matched, and my shirts invariably had some sort of stain on them by noon every day. During my annual visits to Arkansas throughout my middle- and high-school years, I saw myself in my grandmother’s overflowing ashtrays and heaps of laundry. My parents whispered about her mangy dogs that she took in as strays while I tried in vain to teach them tricks. And even once I began sporting mascara and hickeys from boyfriends, I delighted in chasing the toads whose bellies made a comical “plop” when they landed after each jump.

Over time, I’ve gotten more adept at hiding that Grandmother Rose side of myself. I’ve stuffed my blotchy cheeks, stained clothing, and overflowing folders into a sort of closet of unwelcome habits. I try not to let others see that a level of my mind is a ranch-style home in the middle of the countryside, full of coffee-stained teacups summering, coaster-less, on hardwood mantles. Years after I had seen a southern toad, when I was no longer beholden to my parents’ bevy of roadtrips, I lived alone in college. After a disastrous breakup, spurred on partly by pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I had a one-bedroom apartment by the river all to myself. Every night, as the stars rose, I would walk the path by the water. Sometimes, after a heavy rain, disoriented crawdads would wander up the hill from the river, swaying in the dark towards the nearby golf course. I interrupted my stroll every time to pick the lost creatures up and ferry them back down the slick hill to their home, setting them carefully just at the muddy edge of the lapping river.