“I don’t want you to miss out on the world, is all” is what you said when you gave me the money. Two thousand one hundred ninety four dollars, written on a green check in your beautiful loopy shaky handwriting. Pay to the order of Miss Tess Petersen. Your hand went to your buttoned collar at your throat and then to your handkerchief tucked in your sleeve at your wrist.
“You shouldn’t miss the chance to go.”
I nodded and you placed your hand on my arm and leaned forward to whisper, glancing toward the next room.
“It’s from my very own account. He doesn’t need to know anything about it."
The check, I would come to understand much later, represented years of household pin money squirrelled away from grocery budgets—bits of independence bought by small frugal sacrifices and accumulated by a few leftover quarters and dollars and dimes at a time. Grandfather was generous in his own way but not with leeway on the household budget, as you know. And not casual about his patriarchy.
You remember. I had been working and saving for this chance to study in London but had arrived at a sudden shortfall of funds that jeopardized the whole thing. A bit in denial, I hadn’t yet notified the program that I wouldn’t be coming after all. I hadn’t told you about this, though; Dad must have.
And so, voluntarily and without fanfare, you liquidated your hidden fund. Did you feel its loss? Did you foresee, even then, your words and memories slipping away and the cruel, accelerated decline toward the end? (These questions only come now. Despite my relief and gratitude, my thoughts were not of you that day, not really.)
I took the check and probably hugged you. “Thank you, Gran.”
You waved away my gratitude, scenting the air with roses. In the way you looked at me just then I felt known. I knew you saw me fully, not just as one of your dozens of grandchildren but me--aspiring, tentative, oblivious, hopeful, scared nineteen-year-old me.
“Write it all down, Tessie. Send me a postcard and tell me how it is.”
Even as I turned and walked toward the door, I sought a life frankly different than yours, with your tidy rows of canning jars filled with sweet pickles and quiet background servitude. But what did I know--what did I know?!--of the tender sacrifices a life requires.
And so I went, your freedom money crinkling in my pocket.
I love when artists share little sketches and studies on their way to the finished product. Writers and Authors seem to play it a little closer, going underground until the whole thing is through. I have no talent for that kind of clandestine patience, though, and am hardly a capital W Writer--more of a sketcher and dreamer at this point. This is a little fiction snippet loosely based on an experience with my grandma Kathleen (who, incidentally, would be 100 this year) but re-imagined as a sliver of another story.