Prose | Memoir

For the Love of Joan

An excerpt from my “first novel”

Joan Veronica Cotter Jasek, mid 1990’s | Photo by author

Imagine with me: it’s Thanksgiving Day. The sky hangs low, a heavy grey ceiling, and there’s a nip in the air that makes you twice as thankful, since this is Texas and more often than not you celebrate the supposed-to-be-cozy holidays in a t-shirt. You’ve been awake since early, excitement dashing away the siren song of the bed, and because you are 10 years old in a very uncomplicated way, you’re already ready. The family feast is scheduled to start at 1pm, but you know that the family chef has been up since before dawn and probably put the turkey in at 6am, so — wait for it — there it is — the phone ringing, and there’s her voice on the phone telling your Dad that everything’s cooked. At 11am. Two hours before schedule. You run back to tell your Mom; she’s in the shower and immediately goes into panic mode because it takes her a long time to dress and get out the door.

Time crawls as you bounce from room to room looking for things to do to pass the time, because you are twice as excited now. You sit for a while with your Dad, who is also already ready, and try not to laugh at the audible hysteric hurry coming from the back of the house. Amid a great deal of confusion, at long last you are in the car, making the familiar trip that brings you joy every single time; by the time you get your driver’s license, this is one route you have memorized, the internal map taking root even through the hazy, inattentive confusion of childhood. You even know her neighborhood like the back of your hand. There’s the house that never takes down its Christmas lights, just throws a few more strands up in the tree and continues to plug them in even in the heat of summer. There’s the neighbor who has lived so long alone in his extreme age that the walls creep with cockroaches he fails to notice. There’s the lady who was supposedly crazy until they found out it was just her thyroid. There’s the Pitts’ front yard, full of incredible oak trees they spent a fortune saving from the blight. There’s where your piano teacher grew up. There’s the super modern rectangle of a sunken house where a couple of guys live who have huge Mastiffs that play with half deflated basketballs instead of the usual tennis variety. And of course you know all of this from your evening walks and the narration that accompanies them, plus the fact that the teller of their stories genuinely cares for them all.

The driveway you’re headed for is a long sloping loop that slides down from the level of the street, skirts the side of the house, curves around and back up into the garage. Your feet hit the ground and you run to the back door, where the delectable aroma of traditional delights floods your senses before you even get a step inside. It’s warm, and the scent of golden gobbling bird is especially strong since it’s been basting in the extra oven that bides it time in the subterranean laundry room for just such occasions.

The HVAC closet ticks as you pass its slotted portal. Your little legs bound up the basement stairs two at a time, clicking across the slate floor of the foyer, hopping down the step into the open living room that joins the kitchen, and there she is: Grandma, with her megawatt smile and ubiquitous homemade apron, folding you into her petite powerhouse of a hug. This is her house, and she is the family chef.

Years later, when you are grown, and cooking Thanksgiving for your own family each year, filling the house with savory fragrances that go back generations, rising from the ancestral steam of her recipes, you will find a letter in a box brought recently from your parents’ house, in that dear scrawling hand that makes your heart sing.

“Amy — I’m finding so many angel cards I can’t resist them. Frankie [my uncle / her youngest son] said when he was little he knew he had a guardian angel but one day he said he had two. When he was a certain age he needed two. Guess that is why he has decided to be a Deacon, his angel guided him. May yours be at your side always and she will give you help whenever. You have two, I’m the other earth one. Love, Grandma.”

This is a collection of stories about that Earthly Angel.

This is an excerpt from the introduction for the memoir I wrote during November, for NaNoWriMo. I banged out 50,000 words in 18 days and am still drowning in the editing process, with eye strain and sore wrists. My Grandma left the earth toward the end of October, and the writing is part of my grieving process. I would love comments! Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Mother, daughter, photographer, writer (sort of).

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