We were sitting there, side by side, at the scratched up wooden kitchen table at 604 S. Hibbard. Mail, tea cups, paper towels used then folded in half to be used again at each placemat. It was an afternoon in the summer. I was home home for a few weeks, like I love to do. Escape the San Francisco fog, get back to fireflies and hot humid stickiness. Long summer days, the back porch wicker swing, the locusts singing at dusk, family just a few blocks away.
Mike and I were engaged, starting to plan a wedding, something good for our family that had in those before-times seemed to be on a streak of goodness. GG was the seamstress in the family. More than a seamstress, really. She crafted, made clothes, made country keepsakes, sold them at fairs throughout southern Illinois, spending weekend after weekend schlepping pillows and embroideries and things that made you feel like Americana was still a thing and that the décor of a Midwest farmhouse should be as you would imagine, gingham and muted greens and reds and blues. It was her way to help make ends meet, hover around the poverty line I would later understand.
She was 85 then, but always seemed so young. So spry. Living with cancer in her bones for almost 6 years now. Caring for my grandfather whose sight slowly receded for much longer than that. I’d catch, out of the side of my eye, her mindlessly rubbing her hands and all their joints, so thin and freckled, with blue veins that were like swelling rivers on a map of her life, through hardships and joy and more hardships. The bone pain had to be so significant. She never let on, only sharing that it was a chore to lift the cast iron pan for cooking some days.
I wanted our wedding to feel like home, to feel like this home in particular, to be homemade, to have the fingerprints of my family all over it, GG’s fingerprints included. We had assumed we would not get married and then it all changed when GG’s diagnosis became more complex. We would get married to honor she and my grandpa who were to be married 68 years, to try and live up to what they are, which was very much in love.
She was in her cozy jeans and smart rubber soled black shoes, laced up. She wore a beloved cardigan – pockets full of tissues and peppermints – draped over her Alfred Dunner top on her ever-slightening frame. Her gold-edged glasses pushed towards the bridge of her nose. Blue eyes still very much clear and bright.
She was teaching me how to create a French knot. As I pan out from her hands to the table to the room to the house to the town to it all, I think, “what in earth was GG doing teaching me how to French knot?” It sounded so fancy, so unlike her. But here we were. Our little save-the-dates were coming together – the image of a map of the United States, a French knot on the map – at the precise confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers – where we were to be married – and a French knot on the map of wherever our guest were coming from. A string connecting them both, indicating the journey we would all be taking to be together in celebration.
Her small hands working quickly. My large clumsy hands and long fingers fumbling, not quite grasping the loose threads I needed to yank on to make the knots secure, not even managing to keep the thimble safely on my finger. She was so patient. Showing me over and over again, while my shoulders were tense and eyebrows furrowed. We laughed at my attempts but she ended with an upbeat, “oh that one’s good, see, you’re getting it.” She probably did most of the save-the-dates in that one afternoon, now that I look back, bypassing my frustration that I didn’t inherit her natural comfort with needle and thread.
I wish I had known that she would die two months later. I wish I had known that she wouldn’t be there at our wedding. I wish I could rub her hands and give her some relief. I wish I still have her muscle memory to create those perfect little round knobs of thread.