Dear Grandma,

By Linda Petrucelli

PROMPT—I am grateful for ...

Thank you for the many times you welcomed me into your apartment to spend the night. I loved climbing up the mysterious, dark stairwell that led to your door at the top of the steps. It was a world apart from family arguments and anxieties at school. It was exciting to have daddy drop me off and know that I would have you all to myself until the next day.


I was enchanted by the softness of your flesh as it pressed against me when we hugged. I felt so special and loved by you. I was happy and content to be in your presence, though your English was minimal and all I knew was a smattering of Italian.


I remember shopping at the A & P with you. I would get to push the cart as you picked up a can of coffee or a small package of flour. You’d take my hand as we crossed the street, shuffling next to me in your black squatty slip-ons, making sure we checked both ways.


You made me dinner and we ate at the round oak table that’s in my dining room now. You wore a threadbare bib apron that you tied in the front and I sat at the table coloring while you cleaned the kitchen until everything was put away.


For entertainment, we’d go into the front room and you’d turn on the tiny black and white TV set and we’d watch Mitch Miller and Perry Como. You’d bring me my favorite treat—saltine crackers with butter, only when you said butter, it sounded more like booter.


Then I’d change into my pajamas and you’d brush my hair until it shined. We’d take the green cushions off the sofa and turn it into a little bed for me and you'd say, “You go sleep now.” I’d listen as you’d get ready for bed. I imagined you unwinding your long, silky hair from the bun at the back of your head and brushing it a hundred times, just like you brushed mine. Right before you tucked yourself in, you‘d light the votive candles on top of your dresser where the big statute of the Virgin Mary kept watch. I laugh remembering your funny story when grandpa was still alive and daddy was just a boy—how the police pounded on your door because they saw flames flickering through the big glass window in the front room and thought it was a fire. But it was just the Virgin Mary that you were praying to.


Then you’d turn off the lights and I could see the candles casting a dancing light on the walls and I listened to you pray in Italian. You were whispering your prayers, praying for the family, praying for me.


I’d lay there, not understanding what you were saying, but I could tell you’d been praying those prayers over and over again for a very long time. It felt as if God and all the saints were in the room with me.


When I was that age, I was often afraid of the dark. But you showed me how to make the darkness a beautiful and holy thing by adding candles and whispered prayers. Even now, when I feel beset by some worry that interrupts my sleep, I lay in bed and imagine your voice comforting me, encouraging me to say my prayers. Thank you so much, Grandma, for teaching me to trust the night to God. I love the way you loved me.


Your youngest granddaughter,

Linda

For most of her adult life, Linda Petrucelli has lived on islands. Being surrounded by water suits her. Her essays have appeared in Sky Island Journal, Memoirist, and HerStry among others. She holds theological degrees from Yale and Chicago Theological Seminary, but has recently abandoned religion for art and swimming. Petrucelli writes from Hawi, HI.