You loved me before I was ever even born.
I’m covered in a pink blanket telling me it’s true. As I was knit together in my Mother’s womb you knit together strands of yarn: this gift for me.
I have never known life without you in it, loving me, delighting in me, calling me Monkeyshine.
I am teeny tiny and you are scrubbing me squeaky clean in your bathtub. The bottom of the tub is rough and the water is cloudy from all your bars of soap. I hear the TV in the living room, Grampa’s watching the nighttime news. The tub is draining now, loudly & slurpily while you sit in your little chair drying me off and wrapping me up tight in clean towels. You put a dry washcloth on top of my head and I always wonder why but I never ask. Every single time, it’s just what you do.
Like when we spot Chickadee’s on your deck and you sing out, “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee” and you teach us to sing along with you. Like when we cross over the Mississippi River and you have us all saying Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi as many times as we can while we’re driving over the bridge. Like how you are always serving us Raspberry Ginger Ale in itty-bitty fancy glasses and calling it pink pop. It’s just what you do.
You have a million ways to tell us how much you love us.
When we sleepover you make up the fainting couch in your room as a tiny little bed for your tiny little Grandbabies. Your basement doubles as your quilting room, where you spend years & years sewing pieces of fabric into quilts for each of us. Your kitchen is filled with candy jars, and I know you know we sneak in and steal candy every chance we get. In your closet not only are there clothes for you but tiny little dresses for us to play dress up in as well. We are silly little geese, running around in these dresses playing house and fashions shows and weddings.
It’s Summertime and we are swimming in your backyard. You’ve collected enough tiny tin tubs to give us each a little swim tub, and we laugh & splash as you make it rain over us with the spaghetti strainer. The wind chimes hang from the trees and play their song while the leaves rustle and the hummingbirds buzz around your bright red feeders. When the plums are ripe we run after you to the trees, you carrying a white cotton sheet and us carrying on after you like the little Monkeyshines we are. You cover the ground with the sheet and we help you shake the trees, it’s raining plums at Gramma’s house and our faces are sticky with their juice. Soon you’ll be simmering this fruit into jam but for today we just sit here together under the trees and stuff ourselves with plums.
It’s Autumn and your kitchen counters are filled with every kind of bread and jam and pie. You stand at the stove stirring pots and I am beside you, itty bitty and asking when supper will be ready. “Hold your horses.” You tease me. It’s Winter, the windows are frosted & frozen but inside this house with you there is only warmth. For breakfast you make us oatmeal brimming with cream, or french toast with powdered sugar, or fry bread with peanut butter. It always smells like food in here because you’re all the time fixing us something to eat. We all squish into your bed to watch Anne of Green Gables, and you teach us to play Old Maid, and you let us work your puzzles with you. It’s Springtime, everything is new again, and we are planting flowers with you. You laugh at our silliness and show us how to pack black earth around the flowers’ roots. We plant Marigolds and Geraniums and Morning Glories and you hang them all over. You make everything beautiful.
This is your rhythm, season after season, year after year, you fill our lives with love.
I am not so teeny tiny anymore, but you keep on caring for me. I move into my first apartment and you show up with everything you think I’ll need. Towels and glasses and rugs and silverware and groceries and even a rolling pin. It’s crucial for you that I learn to bake a good pie, isn’t it? Don’t worry Gramma.. I got the hint.
The seasons keep changing and your hair grows whiter and your wrinkles grow deeper. You move slower and remember lesser. Soft & slow our roles shift into new shapes. Your sons & daughters & grandbabies gather in tighter to care for you in all the ways you’ve cared for us. We love you so fiercely.
Bathwater showers down warm, you’re in the tub and I’m scrubbing you squeaky clean. I wrap you up in clean towels and I set a washcloth on top of your head. It’s tradition, although I still don’t understand it. I comb through your hair and sometimes I curl it. I remember you taking me to the salon on special occasions. You’d get your perm and I’d get my hair done in curls. I paint your nails and I remember sitting with you at the dining room table, newspapers and breadcrumbs scattered everywhere, and you painting my itty-bitty fingernails pink. I’m painting slowly, carefully. “Hurry up.” you say, so I tease you back, “Hold your horses.”
I am twenty two now, you haven’t recognized me in weeks, but today while I’m putting on your socks I notice you looking at me differently. “Gramma do you know who I am?” I ask. “Well of course I do.” you sass. “What’s my name?” I ask gently, I just want to hear you say it. “Brittany Ann!” you exclaim, your only confusion is why I’m asking such a question. I’m slipping your feet into your shoes and tears are escaping down my face now. It’s just so good to be known by you again, if only for this morning.
You are so dear to me, Monkeyshine. I am far away, building my life with my own little ones, but I am all the time missing you. I teach my tinies the tiny bit of Ojibwe you taught me, I teach the girls a song I remember you singing with us, I call my daughters Monkeyshines. In Colombia I find a blanket you would have loved and I use it as my bedspread because it reminds me everyday of you. I share the movie Corina Corina with my Kiwi family and they love it as much as you do. Your legacy stretches so far & wide.
Here I am home again, twenty five and your Monkeyshine still. Outside the leaves have burned bright and bold and beautiful; now they scatter away in the wind. Inside I’m tucked beside you in bed, all I want to do is be close to you. I hear your heartbeat and smell your Gramma smell and I can still remember exactly how it felt to be teeny tiny and snuggled into bed with you. I lay here soaking the pillow with my tears, listening to the both of us breathe. You inhale & exhale & inhale again, but we know your time is close.
I don’t know how to live in a world without you in it. I don’t know what life will feel like without you here.
But I do know this: you have left a part of you inside of me. Your breath will stop but mine will continue and I will carry you with me into all the days of the rest of my life.
You have sown pieces of yourself into each one of us. You have loved us deep & true, sweet sassy Monkeyshine, and we will always, forever, fiercely love you. ♡
Jaqueline Joan Fairbanks
May 13th 1928-October 22nd 2015