Last night when I couldn’t sleep, a regular torment these days, I remembered my own grandmother, my mother’s mother, whom we all called Munda; her letters and short stories are part of the subject of my next book, out in August, “The Blue Book: Three Lives in Letters.”
Munda didn’t drive, so when she traveled by train from Richmond to Louisville for her spring two week visit, she was always at our house, unlike the other grownups who were usually in town, working or attending to their varied and vivid social lives.
So when the driving group dropped me off after school, I always knew I would find her, ensconced on the chaise longue with its ruffled pillows that was a staple of all southern bedrooms.
She was always fully dressed, even down to stockings and shoes, and often she would be working on a delicate piece of lace to put on a party dress for me or my girl cousins.
I don’t remember where I sat—probably on one of those little dressing table chairs that perched like gilded spiders—or how we got started on our talk—or rather HER talk.
She was a storyteller, a spider-woman who wove her web of enchantment with tales from her collections of short stories, or myths that never found their way between covers.
I didn’t say much; her enchantment was too potent, her stories much more dramatic than mine—she loved love, death and desolation, in that order. I didn’t know much about any of that although I sensed all three would loom in my future.
With Iona, the situation is entirely different. We are equals. I think she came into the world sixteen years ago as my equal and has never lost that standing.
Her life amazes me: her dedication to horseback riding and strenuous competing, her wise sense that there is more to life than horses even though they are her passion, her keen sense of her responsibilities, her discipline.
She does not spin tales, as Munda did. She talks about her life. And I am astonished. Our relationship couldn’t happen if I was sitting on a chaise lounge and she was sitting on a boudoir chair. Instead, we sit as equals on two hard straight chairs on either side of a small table, with two cups of tea in front of us.
What a blessing.