Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The persistence of memory

My second daughter derives half her name from my grandmother, whom she never met. So an image of her namesake captures her imagination. Sometimes she'll ask for stories.

Too many red lights today, she asked for a story. She was eating a banana in the backseat, sweetly unpeeling an inch, offering a bite to her brother, enjoying a bite herself, and unpeeling the next inch. I watched her through the rear-view mirror and began the banana story.

My grandmother for whom she is half-named was born in Poland and came to this country at the age of 12. The school system in Chicago stuck her in kindergarten with kids half her age; that was their plan for teaching her English. On one of her first days the school lunch included a banana, which was a food item my grandmother had never seen. She didn't know banana protocol and bit it directly. It was disgusting, of course, and the kids half her age laughed at her. My grandmother learned fluent English but never did eat bananas.

But, Mama, L says, if I was there I wouldn't laugh at her. I would show her to peel it, like you showed me one time. She and her brother share their treat until it's gone and traffic dissipates. I'm rewarded with their conversation and room to accelerate and the offering of an empty yellow peel.

My grandmother was more than an immigrant, more than stubborn, more than banana-hater. And L is more than the reduction of these moments from my fingertips to your screen. But I marvel, always, at the hypnotizing power of a story.

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