I had a really special bond with my grandmother. A lot of girls will say that, but I think ours was deeper. Different. We had this electric connection, a current of energy that ran between us like crackling livewires. When she passed away at the ripe old age of 92 I should’ve just been happy to have her as long as I did but instead it felt like I’d lost a limb, a part of me that had always been there and left an ache in its absence.
We used to listen to AM radio together. It was our thing, you know? One of my earliest memories is a long-ago Christmas when all the other grandkids were running around, hyped-up on sugar and the high of toys fresh out of their packaging, ignoring my grandmother as she sat near the antique radio she kept in the living room. Family members chattered all around us but she had this look of determination on her face as she pressed her ear to the speaker, trying to hear over the racket of holiday chatter. She turned the dial slowly, paused to see if the station held any interest for her, then continued to turn it in a careful, practiced motion.
I was only 4 but I was instantly drawn to it, to her; something about the way she was in her own little world despite all the activity around her just seemed so soothing. I remember toddling over to her and plopping down by her feet. I remember pressing my ear near the speaker, too, and mimicking the resolve I’d seen her wearing.
Gramma smiled at me. She ran her free hand, the one not turning the radio’s dial, over my hair and said,
“Will you help me listen, Alice?”
And I did. I helped her listen, for that Christmas and many years to come. We never stayed on one channel very long but that didn’t matter because we had something special, something just between us. We listened to AM radio together and I grew up knowing that it wasn’t what you heard that mattered, it was who you heard it with.
After her funeral I went home, the deviled eggs I’d eaten at the post-burial reception sitting heavy in my stomach. I knew she was gone but it was so hard. To keep on going like everything was okay. How could it be okay when I was never going to sit at my Gramma’s feet again, watching her delicately-wrinkled face as she scanned the stations with unending patience?
A few years ago, I’d bought a record player, one of those all-in-one deals where you could play albums or CDs or cassette tapes but I knew I really wanted it for the radio. It was made to look old-fashioned but it held none of the elegance that Gramma’s did, a leftover from the days when household entertainment was required to function as both décor and furniture. I found myself staring at it then, my feet aching in their black funeral pumps, my eyes raw and red from crying.
I sat on the floor in front of the radio, removing my heels so I could cross my legs Indian-style. Before I knew what I was doing I had switched it on and taken the tuning knob between my fingers. The familiar sound of static and a faintly alien hum filled my living room; I relished it for a moment before I started to turn the dial, slowly, just like Gramma used to.
It never took very long to hit the religious holy-rollers, the ones who shouted of Jesus’ love and hate in equal fervor. I never cared for what they had to say but I adored the way they spoke, each word elongated and over-enunciated until it seemed to have a whole new meaning. The doh-MIN-yun of Gawd! YEW, the fayth-full and HO-lee ones… in Cuh-ryst GAWD’S guh-lo-ree!
I listened to the man boom on about something called a “quickening” and raising the dead up from hell before turning the dial again.
Next up was a commercial for a restaurant in Spanish. Apparently they had “fajitas el grande”! A velvety-voiced man described this fantastic dish and an artificial high-pitched voice agreed with him; I instantly pictured a cartoon ant wearing a tiny sombrero and laughed despite myself. I turned the dial again.