you know when you have one of those full circle moments that make you glad to be alive, that make you look back and remember all that you went through and realize that the most amazing connections never really die?
today i went to the june key delta center’s grand opening..while there are many special things about this center, especially what it gives to the neighborhood, and how it was built as a ‘living building’ out of reclaimed items (including rail cars), the sentimental bit for me revolved around it being adjacent to my grandmother’s property. not my grandmother who passed two weeks ago, rather my mother’s ex-mother-in-law, i.e. my sister & brother’s grandma, who was my grandma as well growing up. we spent weekends over at her house and it loomed high over the block. i remember the steep steps up to the top and how we watched love boat and fantasy island and portland wrestling on saturday nights, my sister’s dad being nearly nonexistent (drunk), one uncle bringing in greasy fries in a paper bag, and the other coming by to show us what he found at the flea market. on sunday mornings we ate egg toast (what i called her french toast) for breakfast and she played pinochle. she had one of those dressers with the mirror on the surface and crazy old lady costume jewelry. great sense of humor and a heart of gold and a brown curly wig i never understood. i visited her when i was in college, and loved our conversations.
when i was living in denver, found out her house had burned to the ground. a great-grandchild had been playing with a lighter and everything – pouf – was gone. it was 3 alarms, on the news and everything. she rebuilt on the property and was excited to get ‘new stuff’. she lived across from peninsula park, the smaller of portland’s two rose gardens, and years ago had worked at their community center/pool. my sister and her were of course very close, but she and i had a special bond. i didn’t need no one, because nobody really needed me, but man did i LIKE her. it was in her kitchen that i read the paper at age 6 (hey, i was precocious) and found my great grandmother’s obituary because my family didn’t bother to tell me. hell, we watched wrestling together and she was hilarious to listen to. so when she went into the hospital not long after her house was built, and i’d moved to seattle, i went to see her in the hospital. mind you, this was the hospital i was born in, and many years later would work in when it closed and a very large shoe company moved in its place – and the floor i worked on? the floor i visited my grandma in. the wig was gone, her hair was thin but long and down to her elbows. her skin was tender and scarred from the needles, but we made jokes about her track marks and giggled and i said i’d see her at christmas (this was the weekend before thanksgiving), gave her a hug and a kiss, and a few days later she passed.
most of my family originated in this area – my dad grew up a mile away, my mom married at 19 and lived just a few blocks from my house today, and in houses all around this neighborhood. it’s why i looked over here for a home, and i think why it makes so much sense. i’m not tied here, it’s just a community that i feel at home in, and that i understand, and that contains a million memories.
so next to my grandma’s was an am/pm mini market. it closed and for many years it was an empty, dilapidated old lot. for the past few years, it has been a slow work in progress, culminating in tonight, the opening of a sweet little community center with sustainability and community in process. i rode my bike over and started talking to people outside in the warm summer evening, and found that several of the ladies there were longtime residents, and they even remembered my grandma’s house, and told me stories of the neighborhood, and how they ran to it when it started to burn. they remember when the college was built (my mom sold her home when they took them all down to build the school) and they remember the shops that used to be around.
and as we were talking, and getting all sentimental, various other ladies would come by and talk to us, and i kept staring at one in particular. and i finally heard one of the young men call to her and i knew it – it was her. when i was in high school and college, i worked for a high end retailer, and she was my personal customer. not a big deal to some, but to me i was very close with my customers – they were like my aunties i never had, looking out for me, gave me beautiful gifts, and were always there for the hugs. and i said her name, and of course it had been nearly 20 years so i had to remind her of the 18 year old version of myself, and we hugged and hugged and laughed. she was still the same style queen and her sister still had the great big jackie o sunglasses, and as i walked through the center, it took everything in my power not to cry like a baby. how had it taken 5 years to have her in my same neighborhood yet now just run into her?
it was a simple reunion but it was a huge full circle evening. i saw my neighborhood evolve from one of the most dangerous to one of the most beautiful. i saw people who had been there through all of it, who remembered even more than i did. i laughed and talked with my aunties while kids ran around and everyone was full of genuine and smile and ease. and i remembered those people who had seen the innocent young girl in me and who still saw everything in me, who were mothers to me.