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Grandma’s Rag Bag

30 July, 2014

My maternal Grandma is 94 years old. She grewup during the Great Depression, buried two husbands, raised three daughters, taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and preached. She got her college degree when she was 80. Until this year, she lived independently in an apartment complex for senior citizens. Aside from being my Grandmother, she is, also, my Godmother. When I was little I thought she was my fairy godmother, as a teenager I could talk to her about stuff that was on my mind, and as an adult I have profound admiration for her. I still call and chat with her, not nearly as often as I should but I’m working on that.

We chatted on the phone for an hour today. Our conversations always start with her health and the weather. From there, she will tell me the latest gossip concerning the other ladies, who is mad at whom, who won the BINGO games, or who she isn’t talking with and why. She gets a little muddled sometimes and occasionally repeats herself; I think, when you’re a nonagenarian, you’ve earned the right to repeat yourself as often as you like. She tells me about growing up on a farm in the nineteen-twenties, stories from when my Mum was a girl, or about things we did when I was little. Today, we talked about Grandma’s Rag Bag.

I have warm, comforting memories of Grandma’s Rag Bag that I love to wrap myself up in like a patchwork quilt on a cold, damp day. It wasn’t an actual bag; rather, it was a big, worn pillowcase and it was stuffed fuller than Santa’s sack at sunset on Christmas Eve. Inside were old towels and shirts, pantyhose and stockings, hats and purses, and sundries containing such magic as only a fairy godmother can provide. She would pull out this bag of wonders and let me play in her bedroom with the door closed so nobody would disturb me. This special time allowed me to be anything I wanted, needed, to be. A fancy lady. A Cinderella princess. A princess-knight who slew her own dragons and rescued herself. I could be me and that was important because, as a young trans girl, I couldn’t be me anywhere else.

My Da hated that bag and I knew that. I knew there was something unspeakable about it, but I didn’t care because it was Grandma’s magic and magic is always secret. As an adult reflecting back, I have often wondered why my Da never stopped me from playing with those feminine cast-offs and hand-me-downs. He was uncomfortable with and angry about it, though I didn’t understand why, nor, to be honest, did he.

Today, Grandma told me a part of this story that I had never heard; a part she had kept secret, perhaps, to protect my safe place or, perhaps, because grandma hearts are mysterious and know when the time for telling is. My Da had come to pick me up and opened the bedroom door. I, hosiery pulled up over my denim jeans, too-large floppy hat drooping over my eyes, and purse hanging from my arm, was too enraptured in being myself to notice. But, he noticed and was furious, as my Grandma says, fit to hit the ceiling. He turned and said to her, No boy of mine is going to walk around dressed like a girl.My Da is a six foot, broad-shouldered, farmraised man. He is imposing and my Grandma, four foot nine and plump, is not, but she stood her ground and told him to “sit down and shut-up.” She told him this was my time at her house and she didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing. He told her, “But, you have to make him mind.” My short, feisty Grandma told him I was minding, because she had told me to play and that was what I was doing. And nothing more was said on the matter.

Grandma tells me this over the phone and cannot see the tears welling in my eyes. I tell her I love her. She says, “You don’t even know how much I love you. You are my Granddaughter and my Goddaughter and you are so precious to me.” She is my fairy godmother and her love is transformative.

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