As I wrote a memoir story yesterday in my Writing Our Lives class, I came to a place where I understood that I was telling the wrong story. The story that needed to be told came at the situation from a very different place…
“Wait, G. Wait on Mémère.”
Genevieve turned on the basement stairs, without holding on. In horrific slow motion I watched helplessly as she tumbled like a doll down the stairs before coming to a halt on the landing. I don’t know if I screamed or cried out. Rushing down the stairs, I carefully lifted her almost 2 year old body into my arms. I didn’t want to move anything that might cause further injury, but I was so scared, I had to hold her close and try to comfort her while I checked things out. I remember asking her “what hurts?” and “Was that really scary?” She snuggled on my shoulder and let me know that her head hurt and it was very scary.
After checking her out for injuries, and after looking deep into her eyes to be sure that they were dialating equally — all those things one learns to do when raising children, I got her Mommy on the phone, talked to the pediatrician’s nurse and finally let her take a nap. By the time we saw the doc in the afternoon it was clear that Dr. Stacy was treating Mémère more than G, and that the physical trauma was minimal.
Flash back 50 plus years.
The front porch was a good 3 or 4 steps up from the ground. Painted concrete, no railings, but wide and a great place to play. My own grandmother, my Nannaw, would come an stay with us on occasion when my parents would go off to see the Crimson Tide play football. (I come from a divided family – WAR EAGLE! — but that is for another day) We listened to football on the radio and learned from Nanaw that “Touch Down Alabama!” was “a good thing.” We used left over pie dough as modeling clay. We played with the cats or kittens and the dog. All of this occurred on the porch.
But, just as the porch was a great thing (just as the basement stairs are a fascination for my granddaughter), that same porch can dredge up a couple of traumatic memories. On one of those football Saturdays, I remember all of us going to the end of the porch — the end which was graced by the presence of a beautiful, but thorny, pyracantha bush. I leaned out around the corner looking for one of the cats. Wham! I tumbled from the porch to the ground — or rather into the thorny pyracantha.
Nannaw must have had a similar reaction to the one I had watching G tumble down the stairs. I remember her helping me up, checking me out, treating scratches, comforting me.
To this day, I am very timid, even fearful, about heights and about jumping across things like low walls or ditches. I make myself do it at times. But, I do think suspect that the tumble into the pyracantha bush still stalks my psyche and tries to scare me. I need so much for my own grandchild to be unafraid of these things. As I held her close at the bottom of the stairs, I not only wanted her to be physically ok, I needed to help her process and remember the event in a way that would not make her afraid for the rest of her life.
I breathe easier when she talks about it and says “I hurt my head. Mémère picked me up.” I hope that the dominant memory will be that of being taken care of rather than the fall itself.