It’s funny the places we find ourselves when we are truly inspired, when something moves inside of us and tells us to get up and unleash pent-up creative energy. And it seems that it’s always at a time or place where it’s impossible to do what you’re being urged to do. For me it’s writing, and it happens when I’m rocking my daughter to sleep.
Perhaps it’s because of what I’m staring at.
They’re four decorative letters that adorn her wall. I see them if I glance up and to the right, and I spell them out as I feel my daughter’s breath on my neck and rub her back to help soothe her to sleep. J.O.E.Y. The letters spell her name and that of her namesake, my grandmother, JoJane.
We call her Joey because we called her Joey. Grandma Joey. And no one wrote the way she did. Or spoke the way she did. Or made a person feel cared for the way she did. At least that’s what everyone tells me. She’s been gone since I was a teenager. I remember her, of course, and I miss her terribly, but as we all know, we’re different people at 15 than we are at 32. And there was a lot I never noticed.
Luckily, that’s where friends come in, to help fill in the gaps. And my daughter helps too. When I introduce her to an old family friend or even to a stranger, it seems everyone has a Grandma Joey story. And I will never get tired of hearing them.
As each detail of their stories unfolds, I realize how much I want Joey to know about Joey. I want her to know her sense of humor. I want Joey to know Grandma’s kindness, her intelligence and her wit. And, maybe most importantly, I realize how much I want her to be like her great-grandmother. I believe you surround yourself with the types of people you strive to be like, and it saddens me that I’m not able to introduce the two Joeys. But I’m thankful I have my grandmother’s friends to help remind me and to teach my daughter about the kind of person she was.
Another striking realization in talking to the people who knew her is the number of people my grandmother touched, some of whom never had the chance to meet her. They were simply fans of her writing and – as a testament to how talented a writer she was – they felt they knew her through reading her work. For years, she wrote for The Gazette Record, and her column, Upper Level Old Dump Road, won several awards and countless hearts.
The one thing about my grandmother I had always noticed – even at 15 – and will never forget was her use of words. And those live on forever, in print as well as in our hearts. I suppose that’s one thing that binds us together, her and I. Words. Words and my daughter, JoJane Nikola; her great-granddaughter.
I think about all of these things as my eyes shift in and out of focus in the early hours of the morning. It’s dark, of course, but the nightlight shines bright and lights up those four letters. And I think that although Joey will never be able to meet her great-grandmother, she will know her.
**This column was originally published in The St. Maries Gazette Record, November 2010.