As she lies beneath crisp white sheets, I imagine Grand-mère's eighty-nine years of memories repeating over and over in her mind, jumbled by time. When she's remembering a good one, the crinkles around her eyes are a myriad of tiny smiles. I wonder if she's thinking of someone she knew, someone long dead, someone she hopes to see soon. Or is it her garden in Strasbourg, the cathedral looming high behind? "Dat shade vas a shade from God," she'd often say.
Last year I was in Strasbourg, in that shade, Mom explaining, pointing, a good tour guide but not knowledgeable enough to know when silence said more. I wanted silence, to feel the cool of that shadow on my cheek, to think about Grand-mère feeling it, too, back when she was my age, back when she was striving to feed her young family on puny vegetables grown in the cathedral's shadow, her neighbors calling, "Janine, how goes it?" in the dialect of Strasbourg, and Grand-mère's answer, "The weeds, they grow."
And she grew. Struggled, fought, endured. Thrived on it all.
Me? I collect my paychecks, shop the shops, glide along, untested, unchallenged. Could I have done what she did? Not just survived, but thrived, as she did? I need my microwave, my cell phone, my laptop. She had her wood-burning stove and her hands, strong and competent.
Now, her hand nearly weightless in mine, Grand-mère's wandering in a memory. "Have some potatoes," she says. And I remember her potatoes, sautéed brown with onions or creamed in a casserole, potatoes fixed a hundred different ways. I'd eaten them all, but have no recipes, only the flavor memories on my tongue.
"Don't fret, Liebchen," she whispers, her touch light as a butterfly wing. "The shade, it grows."