there’s a story my grammy would tell all the time. you know how it is, how some stories become legends because they are told so often by our elders. i love how she told it, because it must have had a profound effect on her. me in my four year old-ness and she much much older than that.
i was four. much like my own son is now. and we had just moved from the west coast to the east coast. it was the beginning of my memory really. i mean, there are snippets here and there. a diaper changing table, a high chair and me feeding green beans to our dog, a hole in the fenceline in napa valley, the neighborhood pool, a dislocated shoulder, the orange VW bus with brown plaid curtains.
at four, the world began to feel solid. atleast in memory. people fit into their pegs, i was grasping the concept of time much like my own four year old is now: “mom, how much longer until it is tonight?”
it was sometime during this year of my memory that we were walking through new york city. my grammy was a walker. i come from a family of walkers. my grammy was a bostonian. i come from a family of new englanders. much of my memory is walking through boston with her and going back home for fluffernutter sandwiches. we never ate out. ever.
so, new york city. the smell of pretzels on street corners that mixes with truck exhaust. driving through a tunnel no matter where i am in the country and how old i become, will bring me directly to NYC in my mind. it’s all about the smells. when i was older it would become about the views as my brothers and i would lay like sardines in the back hatch of our datsun staring up at the skyscrapers as we whizzed through the city, i mean as fast as one little white datsun can go in a sea of yellow taxis.
maybe we had just moved and that’s why we were visiting. we often went for culture or museums or for that tiny shop that kids were not allowed in where my dad bought his stained glass supplies.
but it was St. Patrick’s Cathedral this day, during this visit. and i remember the steps and the steeple leading straight up. the feel of it being placed right in the middle of the city. something so old alongside something so new. we most likely went there for architecture and beauty. my grammy most likely went there to feel close to god. i really dont’ know.
the light from the candles made it feel magical to me. what i would give to tote my camera in this cathedral and photograph those memories now.
my grammy would tell the story: that i walked up to the candles and knelt, put my hands together and bowed my head. she asked me what i was doing and i replied most honestly, “i’m praying to the pigeon.” because there before me was a stone dove. it all made sense to me then. and it still does now. it made her laugh and until i was 23 years old she told that story to me each and everytime i saw her.
i thought of this today because the sky was crazy and the air stood still with that eerie calm that texans refer to as the calm before the storm. when the sky turns just a little bit more green than you want, when you know somewhere possibly close by, there’s a tornado touching ground. and people all around you start sharing stories of windows bulging of hail hanging suspended in mid-air just seconds before rooftops are ripped off. just moments before the hair stands up on their neck and they think to grab ahold of a beam or post or whatever the fuck is around that is concreted into the ground as they scream “shit!!!!” and think for real that they might just this once get sucked up into a funnel cloud.
i thought of my four year old self because i was feeling like a kid conjuring up a bit of conversation in those moments of lunch break when i am not momma or teacher, but simply meredith. and i fumbled with my words because i always do, because really nothing much has changed since i was four and so very shy. and all the tornado talk had me all creeped out and needing to find some grounding and not think of all the lives i was currently responsible for being at work.
“i’m going on a walk. because it helps just to get away.” there’s a bit of chatter as the gate is opening and closing because it’s lunch time. there’s a curious look and a little bit of a smile like a secret was spilled or shared unknowingly.
“yes to photograph nature and trees and flowers.” this is who i am when i am not mother teacher older woman wishing the kids would nap already so she can go outside to take a breath and find her feet and walk and walk and walk
“i like to kneel before nature.” did i just say that outloud? yes because it’s true because when i’m lost in my lens when i dont’ see you watching me, that’s what i’m doing. you’ll find me crouching in the bushes or along the sidewalk with my camera jammed up in my face and i won’t even see you ride your bike past me smiling under your helmet as you cruise back to work because i’ll be lost searching for something beautiful.
and i’ll come away with an image that makes me happy in my own pagan way because really what i’m doing, still after thirty years, is praying to the pigeon.