Phoebe Wyoming | Illustration by Guy Junker
I left Maui for the Mainland recently, something I rarely do and not under ideal conditions. I was quite concerned for my tutu, my lovely Nana back in the far East—Boston, actually. Babs Wyoming had just celebrated her 29th birthday (for the 55th time, according to Wyoming tradition) and had, for several months, been increasingly forgetful. I felt a visit was in order.
My gorgeous cousin Gabby met me upon my arrival and whisked me through the city traffic. Gabby couldn’t be more lovely, and her name fits her like an opera glove. As her mother, my dear Auntie Em, puts it smartly, “That one never shuts up.” I adore Gabby’s gift. Her characteristic effusiveness was absent, though, when we reunited, and I grew anxious.
“Nana’s not having a great week,” she began, and paused, which of course gave me pause. “So I think seeing you will be good medicine.”
It had been three years, I reflected with a deep pang of guilt. We were still about 20 minutes away from the old homestead, and I asked Gabby to punch it. We arrived at Nana’s front door 4 minutes later, and I commended Gabby on her superb and altogether bumptious driving habits.
“And I’m sure that man will be fine—probably just a flesh wound,” I finished, patting my coiffure in preparation for my entrance. The door opened with a whoosh, and there was my Nana, beaming and teary-eyed.
“Well, look who’s here!” she shrilled, wrapping me in a warm embrace of kisses and a haze of Charlie perfume. She trembled as I held her, and I’ll admit I was a bit overcome, myself. Gabby was keeping up a constant stream of verbiage in the background—recounting the day’s exploits, perhaps . . . who can say?
“Nana, my Nana, how are you?” I sobbed happily, typically determined to help however I could. Classic Phoebe, I’m sure you’ll agree.
“Delicious, now that you’re here,” she cracked, but I detected an undercurrent of sadness, something I’m quite attuned to. “You and your stories! Just like your great-grandmother Lena. She was a caution!” She was covering, and I politely asked Gabby to dry up and locate some libations.
“I hear you’ve been having a rough week,” I leveled as we moved to sit in rockers surrounded by a jungle of hanging plants. It was like Grey Gardens in there. “Tell me everything.”
Nana pursed her papery lips and peered out the window at the goings-on in the old neighborhood, which, instead of the tranquil woodland setting of my youth, had devolved into a suburban bore of a place, replete with ridiculous-looking mini-estates and riding lawnmowers whose choke and throttle let the few remaining trees know that they didn’t stand a chance.
“When you grow older, you should have your memories to sustain you,” Nana began in a small voice. Her tears had not abated since my arrival. I touched her arm tenderly. “But my reminders slip away all the time, and I don’t love change anymore. I’m sorry, my dear. You’ve just arrived, and already I’m a burden.”
I was protesting when Gabby arrived with light refreshments: Cosmos for us cousins, and a Southern Comfort for Nana. As we took our first sips, a bit of family lore occurred to me, and I was imbued with inspiration.
“Nana, is it true you were born prematurely?” I asked with a sly lilt to my voice.
“Yes, dear, and I weighed less than a kitten.” She sipped her Comfort and continued with a bit more vigor. “The doctors told mother to just let me go, but she wouldn’t hear it. She laid me in a shoebox and put me on top of a warm woodstove, and fed me sweet whiskey from a dropper. I suppose I was determined.” She tinkled the ice in her glass, rheumily ruminating, and suddenly a glint of the old steel came to her eye.
“Phoebe, you rascal, reminding me of that.” Tutu scolded me softly, recognizing my talent for psychology with a sideways smirk. “You sit on both shoulders, don’t you?”
It was my turn at absentmindedness. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” I fluttered, garnering guffaws from Gabby and my darling Babs. We laughed until late into the evening, hopefully making new memories, but living gamely, joyously in the moment.