“This sheet doesn’t have any corners,” I say. I’m adopting her language. She calls DVDs ‘tapes’ and television ‘the set.’ “Hold on, we’ll get you corners,” she says, her 90-pound body moving in slow motion but her mouth a mile a minute. I notice that none of the bed sheets have elastic edges. “Did you sew these yourself?” I ask. “No,” she says, “I just added the corners.”
She insists on making the bed even though I’m going to collapse onto it as soon as she’s finished. “Making the bed is an act of love,” she says, like she pulled that phrase out of some Grandma textbook that only Grandmas read. I know nothing about making the bed, nothing about love. “There’s the set, if you want to watch it, but we’ll be watching the set inside, so you can come in once you’re all settled if you want. Just, come inside when you’re settled in and watch the set for a while. Oh! And you need towels, come back into the house…” It’s only 8 PM, but every time I look at the computer phone television screen the sedative I took on the plane reactivates and my head weighs a thousand pounds; my eyes, heavier than that. “Okay, Yia Yia. Just give us a second.” We wait for her to shut the door to the guesthouse and then we laugh for five minutes. “She’s so cute,” my sister says. “She’s such a grandma.”
She is such a grandma, and it took 25 years for me to think so, I wonder if any of that is my fault. I can be cold; the physical and emotional distance never did much for my relationship with my dad’s parents. “We have to go inside, just for a minute,” I tell my sister. We reenter the main house and follow Yia Yia into her bathroom, where she’s picking out towels. “You need face towels,” she says, and we don’t really, but how do you tell your grandma you don’t use face towels? “I just use my hands,” my sister tells her. Like that. “Oh! Well, you can do whatever you want,” Yia Yia says.
She takes pink monogrammed towels off of her shelf and hands them to me. “Stephanie Hope Georgopulos,” my sister says, and she’s right. The towels have my initials on them. “Why do you have…” I begin to ask. “Sophie (she points to the ‘S’) and Homer (she points to the ‘H’) Georgopulos (now the ‘G’).” My grandparents’ initials are mine, too. I just never noticed; but neither had she. “Oh! Well, you should have these then,” she hands me a stack of matching towels, all different sizes. “These are fancy,” I say, touching the raised letters. “You’re fancy,” she replies.
In her bedroom, there’s a photo of me as a four-year-old on Easter, wearing a big white hat. I’m holding a daisy up to my nose, smelling it or pretending to. I’ve never seen this photo before, or I have but I’ve forgotten it already. This house is full of things I remember, but mostly things I don’t. When I was last here 15 years ago, I’d thought my grandparents were moneyed, they must be, because look at their house. The décor is rich in taste and rich in value; not like my home, the one with bills in its mailbox that wait for me to return from Florida. When I see those bills it’s hard to believe anyone in my family has any money at all, but I’ve found the fortune, here it is hanging on the walls.
There are modest accents too, baptism ribbons and an oversized photo of a nameless couple dancing at a street festival in Del Ray. “Your Aunt Joy took this photo. We don’t know who these people are, but oh, how they look at each other, look at their posture. This photo makes me happy,” Yia Yia tells us. I smile; recall a stack of Polaroids I found on a sidewalk last year. I took the water-warped pictures home and pinned their curled edges to my wall, strange faces in my strange bedroom. I wondered about the subjects of those photos often. It feels comforting – strangers featuring you prominently in their homes, thinking of you even though they don’t know who you are.
I have bad memories of this place, but I don’t remember details. Just feelings. I remember wanting to go to bed early just to leave the dinner table, wanting to sleep with my big sister in the guesthouse but being “too little.” I remember crying into the couch cushions of the Hide-a-Bed I slept on, and wondering why my parents made me stay here without them. I remember fighting over peas and carrots, over finishing my food but those fights were actually about adult things, things out of my control, things I was too young to understand. And being here now feels equally melancholic, because now I’m older, we’re all much older, and age seems to be what it took for us to have a nice visit.
I wish family didn’t confuse me, or that I could understand the feelings they drum up, the gasoline memories that float to the surface. Does anyone ever understand these people? Does the process of getting to know them ever end? I’m so tired of messy emotions. I want them color-coded and filed away.
Cane in hand, the first thing my grandfather said when we arrived was, “We’re not like we used to be.” I know he’s referring to their legs – they used to walk on two of them, but now they get around on three and sometimes six. Two human, two metal, two wheeled. “None of us are how we used to be,” Yia Yia quips, and that’s all that needs to be said, really.