It is May the thirteenth and my mother, my grandmother, my eight-year-old sister, and I are sitting on my grandmother's back deck that looks out over the murky lake and the millions of tangled weeds that have consumed her backyard. The sky above is clear, pure blue—no clouds, not even the pretty ones. The sun shines warm and welcome on the backs of our necks.
I am comfortable in a white sunchair, decked out in white socks and a white T-shirt and blue jeans. My mother has her bright pink top on over her khakis. She looks nice today. She is bending over my grandmother's toenails with a gleaming pink bottle of Wet Shine Diamonds polish. They are talking about some distant relatives I don't know. My grandmother, her brown eyes squinting in the bright light, has ashy legs, and my sister is carefully plucking the dry skin off of them.
My little sister's hair is not curly like mine; she got a hold of a pair of scissors when she was three years old and cut all of her curls off. (My mother cried and cried). Now she has long sleek shiny slightly-tressed brown hair that tumbles to her shoulders and I'm jealous. But right now her hair is messy. My mother keeps bugging her to go get a brush, and my grandmother keeps laughing because my sister always puts up a fight.
My grandmother's body is dark and weathered and she has wrinkles and age spots. Her half-brown, half-gray hair is mussed in little ringlets close to her head. I think about how she is getting old, and how much wisdom she has to impart, and I start asking her questions about her mother and her grandmother.
And my mother—once she has finished her job and has set aside the nail polish, and my grandmother's wet pink toes are drying in the sun—hunches forward in her chair, rests her head on her knees, and falls asleep. She was awake all last night working until she started hallucinating about a girl with a green hula hoop, right there in the middle of the Family Maternity Center. Now she gets to rest. Her auburn curls are pretty when they catch the light of the sun, but you can't see the blue in her eyes because they're closed. Her skin is fair and tinted pink like mine. She has wrapped a fleece blanket around her shoulders and she has begun to snore.
My grandmother tells me about her mother until she starts to cry at the memory of her. I don't say anything. Granny doesn't think that crying is a very big deal. For us, it's really not. My mother, too, cried earlier today. She cried when the five of us—her, me, my grandmother, and my two sisters—were all sitting in the kitchen, preparing shrimp and salad and garlic bread and strawberry shortcake. My mother was talking about her boyfriend and she began to cry because of her fear that she's not getting it right. The moment the tears came my grandmother calmly got up and took her in her arms, saying "Aw, Renea," and all these comforting things about how women could do anything they wanted to these days, and she didn't have to live the Leave It To Beaver Life if she didn't want to. And my grandmother hugged my mother and patted her on the back and they both talked over each other and then in a moment my mother was better and she was laughing again.
My big sister and I exchanged glances over our Cokes. "I'm never going to have a relationship," she said to me in all sincerity. ("I am!" I squeaked.)
Now, as my grandmother wipes tears from her eyes and I continue to listen, my mother's snoring gets loud and I laugh and tug on a strand of her hair. "Huh?" she says and wakes up. My grandmother scolds me a little for disturbing her.
"Here, hun," she says to my mother. "You can have the big chair." And my grandmother scoots her huge reclining sunchair over into the sunlight where my mother is, and my mother gets up, disoriented, and lies back down where my grandmother directs her.
My little sister runs inside because something on TV looks interesting. My grandmother leans down and picks up the bottle of nail polish and slips through the sliding door to read.
Looking at my mother, I am struck with the urge to be close to her. I'm tired too, I think.
"Scooch," I say to her, nudging her, and she makes room for me to lie down next to her against the white plastic. I steal a little of her blanket and the sun is warm on my face. I nestle in close to my mother and for a moment I watch her face while she goes back to sleep. She's very beautiful. My friends say I'll look just like her when I'm in my thirties, and I'm proud.
I close my eyes and feel my mother's body next to mine and smell her scent. She warms me to into a light, sunny sleep that I drift in and out of. Whenever I wake up I think about my mother and her mother and her mother and her mother. I think about my sisters and how if they have children they will be mothers too, and they will have grandchildren. I think about how I might be a mother and my mother will be my children's grandmother. I think about how Granny's mother had five sisters and they all got separated when they were little but they were always still sisters.
I'm thankful for the sun and the sky and the lake at my grandmother's house, the way it's always clean and pretty and overdecorated here, and how she always keeps pastries on the counter for us and talks with an accent that pronounces "water" like "warter." I'm thankful for a family that cries together and laughs their butts off together and paints each other's nasty toenails and loves babies and life. I'm so thankful I was born into this world of women who love each other. They've taught me what it means to be feminine and what it means to be alive, and when I am a mother I will teach my little ones too. Perhaps on some Mother's Day far in the future they too might clean my whole house and bring me colorful roses and cards with sappy messages on them. And maybe when I am old my grandchildren will visit my house on Mother's Day to make dinner with me and talk to me and drink a glass of wine. And maybe when I am dead my great-grandchildren will ask for stories about me and what happened to me.
And they'll be told that I was a happy little girl who grew into a happy woman who loved the world because of the people who loved her best: the quirky, beautiful family who raised her, more precious than their weathered hands, more gorgeous than their gleaming eyes.