- Boarders & Travelers
My grandmother, my beloved Gee- Gee, was sick, and I was scared.
She looked as pretty as ever, with the same soft white skin and wavy silver hair. She’d kept not only her figure but also her energy; however, there was talk of doctors and test results. Gee-Gee, my mother’s mother, had something wrong with her blood. It had a strange, musical name: lymphoma.
In the summer of 1966, I turned eight, and she was seventy-two. She lived in Richmond, virginia, and my parents and my two sisters and I lived nine miles north, in Glen Allen, so we saw her often. Gee-Gee’s husband, a doctor, had died in 1945. She had never remarried. She lived in the house on Kensington Avenue where they had raised their children—Bobby, now a doctor himself, my mother Catharine, nicknamed Tas, and younger sister June.
Gee-Gee was not alone at her house. She had boarders. If something happened, they could help her. Reliable and respectable, the boarders added a layer of protection to her life, and to mine. At home in Glen Allen, I played with our dozen cats, climbed trees, and fell asleep to the sound of whippoorwills.
As long as it was summer, time—my old enemy even in childhood—stood still. For a little while, I didn’t have to worry about my vulnerable family— Mama and Daddy with their gnawing concerns about money; eleven-yearold Julie with her annoying tendency to hog Mama; and five-year-old Hilary with the impulsiveness that caused her [End Page 57] to run into a storm door and slice her knee open on the glass. The accident required stitches that healed to pale rickrack on her skin.
And Gee-Gee: though sick, she did what she had always done. She sewed dresses for my sisters and me. They were beautiful, if too tight in the armholes. She made wondrous birthday cakes. If my feelings were hurt, or if I were feeling shy, she would find me and comfort me. All I could do was love her.
A hot July day, and we had a plan. Mama would pick up Gee-Gee and my cousin Kim, who was visiting from northern Virginia, and we would all go to Loew’s Theatre and watch Mary Poppins. My sisters and I were dying to see it.
We found Gee-Gee sitting on her porch with two young men. Dressed in black pants and white shirts, they were recognizable, even to me, as Mormons. Beaming, Gee-Gee said, “Tas, girls, meet Clarry and Larrence.”
Gee-Gee and the men burst out laughing. One of them said, “She means Larry and Clarence. I’m Larry.”
“And I’m Clarence,” the other man said, “though Clarry has a ring to it.”
“Well, Mother,” Mama said, “are you ready to go?”
“Daughter, I completely forgot. Kim must be getting ready.”
My cousin appeared, a breathtaking beauty of fourteen. Her mother, my Aunt June, let her wear as much makeup as she wanted, and she had on eye shadow and mascara. She wore a halter top and shorts. Gaping, the Mormons scrambled to their feet.
Mama said, “Get a sweater.”
“But Aunt Tas, it’s ninety degrees.”
“You’ll get cold in the theater, with the air-conditioning,” Mama said.
Kim went inside and came back with a sweater. The Mormons said, “We ought to be going.”
Gee-Gee said, “Why don’t you come with us?”
“We’d like that,” said Clarence—or was it Larry?
“There isn’t room in the car,” Mama said, looking baffled.
“We’ll squeeze in,” said Kim, smiling.
Gee-Gee said, “I’m not ready, and I don’t want to make you late. I’ll catch up.”
“But how will you …” Mama asked, glancing from Gee-Gee to the Mormons. “Aren’t you riding those bikes?” There were two bicycles by the abelia hedge.
“We’ll take the bus,” Gee-Gee said.
“That’ll take too long,” Mama protested. “This is getting right complicated.”
“I’ve got the bus schedules right up here...