friday faves - grandma's album

Shortly after my grandmother died at the age of ninety-five—just two years before her son died—my dad tugged a large trunk out of a downstairs closet. He told me to go through the things she had left in it and choose whatever I’d like to have. The trunk was a dark wood lined with thin brittle tea-stained paper, bubbling and separating from its edges. In it were several empty wooden frames, a few purses, a rosary, handkerchiefs, gloves, a bible and other knickknacks you’d expect to find in a musty old trunk owned by a woman born in 1899.

I chose one of her rosaries, not because I was raised Catholic (I unsubscribed to Catholicism a long time ago) but because of its beauty and the knowledge that my grandmother’s supple, thin-skinned fingers ran over its beads. Then, a red velvet booklet caught my eye, slightly smaller than a half sheet of paper, about an inch thick with rounded corners. A decorative font embossed diagonally across the front reads ALBUM surrounded by what were velvet curlicues and sprinkles, though long worn thin and threadbare from being handled. An old piece of shiny amber tape secures a tear on the inside page where my grandmother wrote her name in the familiar cursive I remember from her correspondences to me. The opposing page is prettily adorned with three delicate budding tea roses.

Most of the book’s pages are empty, though the beginning is filled with various quotes, all written in my grandmothers hand. The first is about the affects of the caustic tone of voice and is attributed simply to “mother.” Following are quotes from Emerson, Longfellow, Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Plato, Goethe and President John F. Kennedy. Brotherhood, kindness, love, self-discipline and hope are common themes. One of my favorites reads:

"If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come."
 —Old Chinese saying

I’ve read these quotes many times, lightly touching the yellowed paper and faded black ink, always remembering the common thread of biology that runs from her through my father then to me. I wish I had known her. I really didn’t. She lived so far away. I only know she had Spanish blood, bore two sons, was well read though not college educated, played the guitar on the radio and lived in San Francisco, as did I. But through the selection of passages she has transcribed I realize we are so alike, and that feels wonderful. I have continued to write favorite poems and quotes in the album. I only wish Calvin could, one day, read them all and add his own. Something else to dream about.

Originally published 04.28.11.

My dad and Grandma with one of my brothers


  1. I love, love, love that picture. And what a great (Chinese) saying: a green bough in my heart. Okay, make THAT your title. If you don't, I will.

  2. danielle! long time no hear. i just finished section 3 of the book. i must remember the quote you thought i should use. a green bough in my heart. hmmmm. perhaps. xo