7:32 p.m. - Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006
And then, of a Saturday afternoon when I was so tired that all the coffee in the world couldnít keep me awake, I lay down and said, Screw it all, Iím going to sleep. Reviewing, in my mind, all the work that needed to be done ó all the work that wasnít going to get done, because, god damn it, I want to sleep. I am going to sleep.
And finally, I did sleep.
The sun moved across the sky for two hours, and I slept.
Near the end of those two hours, my dead father came to see me. He brought me back to Missouri, to Ozark country, to the nineteen thirties, by showing me some photographs I had never seen before.
One of the photographs was a group of my relatives. I thought I saw that man wearing the broad-brimmed hat, ó that mysterious unnamed man who stands looking at the camera in that shot of the Lutheran church in Willow Springs that I have on an old postcard.
But my curiosity was aroused more by the second photograph, and I moved quickly to look at it. A big house, one and a half stories, with a wood-shingle roof. I didnít recognize it. Its open porch, shaded by a roof, stretched all the way across the front of the house. The railing along the front edge of the porch stood out in clear gray-white (the photograph was black-and-white). Behind that, the roof created a deep shadow. In that shadow, I could just barely make out a seated figure. A rounded, slump-shouldered figure, wearing a dress. I couldnít see it well enough to know who it was, but I knew it was my grandmother.
Long time since Iíve seen her. 1971. In her casket. Emaciated and sharp-nosed, and bizarrely still. I was not well acquainted with death in those days, and I stood beside the casket and stared at her impatiently, expecting at any moment that her chest would rise with a new breath.
At my fatherís wake, when my brother and sisters and I went in to view the body before the visitors began arriving, I said, ďHe looks so much like his mother!Ē ó I meant, his mother when she was alive. Dead, she had looked to me like a bad impersonation of herself.
And now, looking at this photograph, I wanted to see her better ó this woman I didnít recognize but knew, on the porch of this house I didnít know but recognized. The desire to see her, the mere desire, conferred on my eyes the power to enhance the photo ó but no, it was more dynamic than that; it was as if I lifted up into the air and hovered over the photo, and then dived into it, parting the years as a diver parts the waters, penetrating down into that one-dimensional conglomeration of grays and whites and blacks to steal the secrets at the bottom of that photo. Second by second the image became enhanced, illuminated, almost clear. My grandmother, in a printed housedress. My grandmother, seated in a chair, with her worn-out, tired, slumping shoulders, her dowagerís hump. My grandmother, lifting her hand up, putting her thumb to her nose and wiggling her fingers at me.
That nose runs in the family. My grandmother had it, my father had it, my sisters and my brother have it, I have it.
This very nose, that my grandmother was now thumbing at me, came alive and sprouted little worm-like sections that wiggled at me like my grandmotherís fingers. I said, No, donít do that ó stop that ó if your nose is forming section and wiggling at me, this must be a dream. And I donít want this to be a dream. I really want to see you, Grandma. I want this to be real.
But her fingers kept wiggling, her nose kept wiggling, and I swam up out of sleep for the last time.