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My grandmother died at the edges of Savannah where she’d lived her entire life. I inherited her old house when my mother followed her about a decade ago, though I never visited the place until now.
Savannah’s October's heat is skin deep, its humid air shy and timid and not nearly as oppressive as I thought it would be.
As I rowed the boat, I felt some oneness with the universe, some strange comfort, like I was living every life that’s passed on the shores of this river.
And I thought of my grandmother
crossing this same river, over and over.
It was my first time there, but Savannah seemed like the kind of city that becomes a reference to all that follows. The spring of every other state becomes Savannah’s December’s change of mind, every wild life you’ll see is now a reminder of its pollinators and gazelles.
The house was almost untouched. My mother never changed a thing. She said it was like a museum, a relic of older times.
The old, tired face imprinted in all my memories is that of my "grandmother." Seeing a young photo, I can only think of her as Elizabeth Clare. It never occurred to me, looking at her aging face in those thanks giving visits when I was a kid that she'd lived a life so vivid and complete, passed the very moments I'm passing, that she was once in her early twenties, her skin not yet yellow, her eyes not overtaken with jaunt. And that maybe she feared my same young'un fears.
After all the visitors left, she'd fix herself one last solitary drink- Rye whiskey was often her poison of the night. She would sit on the wooden table, her silky thin hair and marble eyes illuminated by candles and an oil lamp, and she would write. She left myriads of notes. In some, she was too drunk to make sense. Others were arrestingly beautiful, like if words could reach and cradle you. It wasn’t an organized diary, nothing like that. Her memos didn't leave a structured trail of her chaotic life. Scattered on tiny pages and papers of books, she wrote down her random thoughts of the moment, her fears, epiphanies, verses of poems, violent opinions of the day.
She wrote hundreds of epitaphs.
And in a way, our lives are like that. Our lives are not structured stories; we’re a stream of thoughts and wants and moments, and most of them don’t really connect.
Timid and introvert are two words I would have never used to describe her.
How was a timid introvert who kept all her deeper thoughts for the paper so actively willing to open her house for strangers every day, to make her own kitchen a pub against the will of the state. Did she drink so much because that life drained her, or did she crave the company of others but only found the courage to seek it in fermented bottles?
There were many stories about my grandmother, the source of her seemingly-infinite amount of beer. Like many others during the prohibition she home-brewed, but on occasion she also smuggled booze from the rum row boats to Savannah's locals.
In the context of my grandmother’s life, drinking feels almost like a triumph, a stand against puritanical autocracy. It makes me wonder if drinking was disallowed, would I still feel as bad about my admittedly heavy drinking. In either case, when Cirrhosis took her life at age 52, it didn't care about the peculiarities of her habit.