My grandmother has, from time to time, forgotten my name, age, college, hometown and mother, but she has never forgotten the words to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I stumbled upon this lyrical archive by accident when I was living with her last year. The song was stuck in my head, I hummed it, and she hummed the tune back. Soon enough, we were singing the words together as she twirled me between her pill cabinet and mail covered kitchen table, spinning me by the Post-it and photograph-coated fridge. Since, we’ve danced to the tune in living rooms and parking lots. We have sung together about a land over the rainbow.
Over break, when I arrived in Pittsburgh, snow was piling up on the ground and weighing down the pine boughs. I spent the day in my grandmother’s living room, knitting and reading and refilling a bowl with maple syrup and snow. Her back was to the window. Each time she turned to look outside, she gasped. Once in a while, she got up and walked toward the glass, the white from outside dancing in her milky grey-blue eyes. “It’s just amazing, isn’t it?” she asked.
She has asked many times, “Isn’t it just amazing?” She is always pointing out the slope of the hills, the flow of the rivers. She loves the clouds. She leans forward in the car and points up through the windshield. “Can you believe it?” she asks. It’s as if the mix of sun and clouds is always utterly unlike any she has seen before.
I forget about the sky sometimes. I know it’s there, but it so easily slips away, passes by unnoticed as I watch sidewalk pass below my feet. I don’t gasp each time I’m reminded it’s there, either. I get carried away puzzling over myself, wondering where I’ll go, which street I’ll take, how long I’ll stay. I’ve usually been like my grandmother, too: easily distracted by rivers and clouds. In New Haven, though, my eyes often feel crusty or tired, having stared too long at a little screen in my hand or on my desk. I often forget the familiar refrain of clouds and light right here, made different by each passing moment. I forget to look up. I know what she’d say, if she were here, wandering around New Haven next to me, her eyes never stuck to a phone or the pavement. “Isn’t it just amazing, Diana?”
Much of my grandmother’s amazement of the world is tied to her city. She still prays every Sunday at the same church where she was baptized and married, the church where she has buried two parents, a sister and a husband. After 86 years in Pittsburgh, my grandmother has never forgotten the words to its particular song: Each stoplight cues some story about her group of middle school friends or an old French teacher, her first post-marriage home or a particular year’s family feast.
Soon, she may have to move, though. We have more family in Colorado. There is a small nursing home there. My grandmother’s short-term memory loops every three minutes. While I lived with her last year, I sometimes came home to find her limping with black bruises splattered across her skin and a swollen knee she couldn’t figure out how she got.
For a while, I have been scared for her to leave Pittsburgh. I do not know if she will like the music of some other town. I am not sure she can learn new lyrics so late in the game.
But when she was visiting Colorado recently, one of my cousins apparently drove her along a highway. Steep mountains and thick clouds blurred out the windows. He drove her up and down the same road several times, and she gasped the whole way, most likely asking him, “Isn’t it just amazing?”
Hearing this story made me remember the obvious: wherever my grandmother is, she is under the sky. She is seeing what I often forget: the constant surprise of light and beauty moving around me, even right here, in New Haven, at this very moment.
These days, my grandmother only has the present tense. I try to live like that too, sometimes trying, for moments on end, to untangle myself from the past and loosen my mind from the anxiety-inducing grip of the future. For her, I try to exist in the exact space where I am. I try to notice better what is in front of me and see it like she would — as some land over some rainbow where bluebirds might fly — because for my grandmother, that place is often right where her gaze happens to land.
Diana Saverin is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .