My maternal grandmother lived in a red shingled house on Broadway in Carle Place, NY. It was a three-story house sitting on a tall foundation with a generous-sized porch, and for part of my childhood, an above-ground pool in the backyard. The front door opened to a long hallway that led to the kitchen. My arms can remember the effort it took to heave open the thick front doors of her house with my small body, and my hands the cold, tacky feel of the wood banister that led to the second floor. Even though they’re the farthest away, most of my memories are of being a child in that big house surrounded by tall people.
My two older cousins lived with my grandmother when they were teenagers. During holidays and get-togethers, I’d lock myself in the bathroom just to try on their makeup, and then I’d wipe it off before returning to the party. From what I can remember, my grandmother’s bathroom was various shades of teal. I even remember the soap being a blueish-green color. Either way, the bathroom always smelled like whatever soap my grandmother used. And even when she was cooking, which she almost always was, my grandmother smelled like it, too.
I have a washcloth in my bathroom right now, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember, and it’s a very faded shade of teal. I must have brought it to summer camp once because it has my name written on it in Sharpie. I don’t know if it belonged to my grandmother, but I swear it smells like her. It smells like the soap from her bathroom. When it’s fresh from the wash, I wet this washcloth with hot water, drape it over my entire face, and breathe in deeply. I breathe in like I’m taking a sip of something. There’s hardly anything to it anymore; it’s so thread-bare, but there’s something about the heat that brings out the scent of her.
It’s amazing how we can bathe ourselves in a memory. Traveling back in time is possible, but just in mere moments, when something inconsequential, like the color of a washcloth, tugs at our insides.
My grandmother is still alive. The last time I saw her was from 6-feet away through a partially open window. She couldn’t hear me, and she knows my face, I’m sure, but not my name or how we know each other. I blew her kisses for our fleeting 20-minutes together. She just chuckled. I could see her smile in her eyes. When I waved goodbye, she touched her hand to her mask and blew me a kiss. That, too, will tug at my insides forever.