could be, it’s one of the seemingly endless parade of tricks up his sleeve. his pajama sleeve, in particular.
this is, after all, a boy who’s been known to go hunting for cheetah in the deep of the post-bedtime hour. who routinely, for a while there, was hauling a whole artillery–light saber, batting helmet, frankinstein flashlight, did i mention the butterfly net–up to his mattress. a boy who thinks of 901 must-ask, can’t-wait, deep-thinking matters once the lights are flicked off. for instance: mommy, is tomorrow the hot dogs that bounce? (meaning, of course, the lunch lady’s un-bite-able excuse for stuffed sausage.)
or maybe it’s just that he’s grown fond of studying their faces, putting name to visage, ticking off his good nights in layers of history, layers of time, that’s not quite the same in the dark, under the covers.
but the latest wrinkle in our decidedly lengthening litany of things-to-be-done on the long road to bed is what he calls: “g’night faces.”
yes, there hanging at the near-top of the stairs, at the landing two-thirds of the way, at the spot where some day i’ll huff and i’ll puff and i’ll steady my old weary bones, there hang the four generations who preceded him on this lonely planet.
one by black-and-white one, he tells them g’night. it is all, now, a part of his bedtime prayer.
there is the hatmaker from philly looking, well, hattish, with a wide-brimmed number she deserves to be proud of.
there is a slew of great grandmamas, the one looking severe, and ever so proper, from cincinnati, and the other one, animated, wrinkled, the one whose nose he is pinching in a not-so-long-ago snapshot from silver springs, maryland.
and then there’s the one neither of us knew, the one who looks rather like me. she’s looking soft, looking shy, looking sepia, looking markedly lacy in the clothes from her first holy communion.
then there’s the grandma, the grandpa, the grammy he knows inside and out. but here on the wall, they’re mere children.
there is his grammy, the one who mostly wears jeans and shoes for the woods, and there she is, a dimple-kneed child dressed to the nines, with a big floppy bow in her hair, and impeccable, hand-tailored clothes on her and her brothers and sister. it’s a picture that makes me wonder, where is the chocolatey mess? how could five children and their non-smiling mother possibly be so starched, so without rumples or spills?
and there is his new jersey grandma, romping with both of her parents, there on one’s shoulder, and there in one’s arms. and there she is, again, maybe just out of college, looking out at the world with eyes that, i’ve got a hunch, saw far more than most in wherever that room was.
then come the grandpas, both sides. one, scribbling notes, raising a pen, just to the right of ol’ ronny reagan, at some talk at the white house (yes, to the manchild’s dismay, the republican presidential poster boy hangs just to the left of his bedroom).
and the other grandpa, the one he’s not ever known except for the stories i tell and i tell, there he is, hmm, feeding a kangaroo down in australia, and there he is with a big bunch of leafy-topped carrots, and again tickling accordion keys.
his mama and papa aren’t there on the wall at the top of the stairs, they’re just to the west on a littler wall. but it’s merely a hop and a jump, and he can get glimpses of us growing up.
there’s his papa at the side of a plane, lined up with his heroes from baseball, tom seaver, and some other guy i should know, but i don’t. there’s even a charcoal drawing of my little one’s daddy. and of me, there’s a whole page of proofs from when i was four, and my brother was two, and we’d buried our noses in giant chrysanthemums, for the front page of the cincinnati enquirer. there is me, too, crying, looking shocked as i was, when they called out my name as homecoming queen, the first non-beauty queen ever, back at my high school.
in black-and-white rectangles, then, the story is told. the once-upon-a-time comes to life, in ways that names without faces cannot.
no wonder he takes to the wall. no wonder there’s no going to bed, anymore, without the g’night to the faces.
each night, i imagine, he notices, as do i, one more bit of the picture. a nuance, a shadow there in the eyes.
we study old pictures, we urge them to tell us a truth we’ll not really hear, no matter how long we stand there and stare.
but my little one is six. he’s the last one, it seems, of his generation. there are many before him whose lives he must sift through, to come to a deep knowing of just where he stands in his place in the line.
as long as my boys have been going to bed, there’s a prayer that we pray every night. we thank God for all of their parts, their eyes and their ears and their nose, right down to their back and their tummy. then, 14-some years now, we tick off each of the ones that they love, each of the ones who love them right back. we start with grandma and grandpa, we blow kisses to ones up in heaven.
and now, now that the g’night faces are part of the nightly equation, the prayer, he tells me, has come right to life.
“i look at the pictures and i just think i wish i could hear what they’re saying,” he told me last night. “sometimes i just wish i could go in those pictures. i wish i could see them in person–like grandpa geno,” who is my papa, who was gone 20 whole years before the little one came to the planet.
i know what it is to stand and stare at a picture. to wish you could will it to life. and maybe that’s part of the reason we hung them right by the stairs.
so that, in all of our comings and goings, our ups and our downs, the ones who came here before us, the ones whose noses we share, the ones whose brains we did or didn’t inherit, each one of them, all of them now hanging together, would come off the wall, and become a part of our everyday story.
and even our bedtime prayer.
g’night grandmas. g’night grandpas. see you in the morning.
do you have a place in your house where history comes to life? real history? your history? do you spend time thinking of those whose story unfolded long before yours? if you have children, do they love to look back at old pictures, to hear the stories that come with each 3-by-5, 5-by-7, or an even earlier sepia one that comes in odd measures?
speaking of story telling, a year of pull up a chair is days away from wrapping up. oh, we’ll go on pulling up, all right, but my everyday exercise in recording a year will be over. i will keep at this practice of searching for grace on the homefront, but not every day, i don’t think. you’ve heard more than enough. i’ll say more next week about this most blessed year, and look ahead to the next. i’ll be curious–very much so–to hear your thoughts, so i’ll ask. i just thought i’d mention today that come tuesday, i’ll have written for a whole year of mondays through fridays, december 12, 2006, through december 11, 2007. it’s a lot for me to think about, and i’m already pondering it now. until next week, then, have a most blessed weekend. and thank you for these last 51.5 weeks. love, the chair lady