why I am the way I am (well, partially)

Sometimes I see good as the absence of bad. My friend Juliet calls it the “worry ball.” My worries have to be somewhere. But when they’re not? When things actually feel smooth for two seconds? Well, that’s amazing.

I’ve always assumed it’s just the way I am. But then again, I never got to know my grandmother. She died of colon cancer when I was ten. I remember her kisses and her smile and the way she said my name. That’s about it.

This summer, I buckled my boys into the back of our car, picked up my dad, and we all drove out to Queens to tour his “old neighborhood.” He wanted to show his grandsons where he grew up. We visited the deli that used to be his candy store. We visited the theater where he used to see twenty-five-cent movies. We begged our way into his elementary school and the boys played in the sprinklers at his park.

And then we swung by his old home. His parents sold the house and moved to Manhattan in the late 1960s. We hovered on the sidewalk outside as he pointed out where his bedroom was, and where they cooled off before air-conditioning, and where his dad used to sit and read the newspaper. My dad was tempted to knock on the front door, but I said, “No. Let’s keep this memory as is.” I mean, what if whoever answered turned out to be icy and unwelcoming?

But then the front door opened! It was a woman in her early seventies, cherry-red hair, hurrying to her car. We quickly explained that my dad grew up in this house in the 1940s and he’s just showing it to his grandsons. My older son was hanging onto every word (my toddler was dancing in the grass under a tree).

“Are you the Macklers?” the woman asked.

My dad and I were taken aback.

The woman told my dad, “My husband and I bought this house from your parents over forty years ago.”

We couldn’t believe it! The house had never changed hands. Wow.

But then it got better. The woman went on to explain that she and her husband had just sold the house and were moving in a few days. That’s why she was rushing. She was on the way to the library to donate a carload of books.

“I wish I could stay and show you around…” she said.

We told her we understood. We thanked her for her time.

But then she turned and said to me, “I remember your grandmother. I met her once and she had a great tan. It was only spring. She said she got it from her garden. But I’ll always remember what she said to me when we were looking at the house. She told me, ‘Nothing bad ever happened to my family in this house.’ It struck me at the time. I never forgot it.”

Nothing bad ever happened to my family in this house.

Sound familiar? Good as the absence of bad. If we had planned our trip to Queens one week later, I never would have known where I got my entire mentality.

A few days ago, on my dad’s 70th birthday, my 7-year-old stood up and made an impromptu toast to him. This is how he introduced himself: “Hi, I’m Grandpa’s grandson.”

So simple. And yet it says so much.

I guess I’m my grandmother’s granddaughter.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to why I am the way I am (well, partially)

  1. Aw, now, you had to go and make me cry. My grandmother’s birthday would have been a couple of weeks ago. I miss her dearly.

  2. Chris Gillespie

    A good family history is always something to be proud of but can be tough to live up to. It is always wonderful to be able to hear stories about your family to see how you compare to them.

  3. What a lovely piece! I love family history, too.

  4. Made me cry. So touching. Thanks for writing this.

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