“All these places have their moments.” - The Beatles
I grew up without grandfathers. My Mother’s father left them when they were young, unimaginable to me. He passed away a few years back, to the best of my knowledge unknown to any of his grandchildren. And probably barely known to his own children - I have never seen a picture of him and have no idea what he looks like. My father’s father died when he was younger, long before I was born, also leaving no evidence, at least none I have ever seen. I seem to come from a lineage of people who don’t stick around, one way or the other.
My Irish grandmother, however, was a strong presence in my life. She and my Mother did not get along particularly well, but she still flew over from Ireland frequently and often lived with us for months on end. I remember her suitcases with the Aer Lingus tags on them, and her name stuck on in large, adhesive letters: MAC, short for MacMillan. Annie MacMillan, but we called her Nana. Her wind-up travel clock by the bedside, her strong, black tea with milk and sugar. I spent untold hours with her on the couch while she taught me to crochet - chain, single crochet, double, treble, granny square. I made pot holders, bookmarks, a pair of slippers. My mother later confessed to me that my grandmother once took her aside and said to her in private, “Ach*, he should have been born a girl.” I was seven years old.
I am so like her, in every way. She was generous, witty, moody, funny, creative, argumentative, clever, adventurous, restless. I sometimes wonder if that’s why I’m not closer to my mother, because I am so much like this woman that she had such a difficult relationship with. A weird thing is that years after my transition, I saw a picture of my grandmother when she was in her late 20s - and the resemblance between us was uncanny. The way she wore her hair, her impish charm, her strength, her independence. We spend our whole lives thinking that we have choice and free will, and it’s astonishing that parts of us are just biologically and genetically programmed to be.
I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately. She passed away when I was 14 or 15, I can’t remember exactly because there was too much chaos spinning around me at the time - another story. When she died we were living in Shelton, CT and I think she was in a nursing home in Toronto. It occurs to me now that’s the only home I knew her to have in all the time she was with us.
For me, this September marks 13 months without any permanent address. Everything that is important to me is either in my suitcase or in the trunk of my car. Or in my heart, or my brain, one of which may or may not live on after I’m gone. Like my grandmother, I own little and I travel much, and I alternately crave and loathe security. There is a magic and a curse to living like this - when you lift the needle from the record of your life, you experience things differently. You experience a nowness that is beautiful and raw and poignant and lovely and lonely, that is deeply connected while rooted to nothing.
In the end, we can not deny our nature. I am packing up my clothes, I am letting my curling iron cool before putting it in my suitcase, I am rolling up the cord on my blow dryer like I have done hundreds of times before. I am snapping shut a small, wind-up travel clock I keep by the side of my bed. I am closing and clicking the lock on another room, another apartment, another bed, another city - each has been beautiful in it’s way, and for a time each has been a home to me.
In my life, I’ve loved them all.
*An Irish expression that sounds kind of like “Ock”.