Today is my Yaya’s birthday. She would have been 85 today.
On the ancestor altar, she is represented by a tiny set of ceramic cats she let me have years ago.
I’ve written about her in bits and pieces. She took care of me as a small kid when my parents were working, and on school breaks and snow days until I was old enough to stay by myself. She taught me to hand sew, and thus I think about her when I embroider now. I used to make little pouches and dolls out of her rags.
She and my grandfather bought a small house and stayed there, in a small city that grew into a medium suburb. When I was a kid, all sort of stores were within a few blocks walk and the really fancy ones like the Woolworth’s were only a bus ride away. Time and the economy have chipped away most of the places she used to take me as a kid, but the lessons remain. I live in a walkable neighborhood now, and I knew I wanted that a long time ago.
She taught me to ride public transportation; she never drove. Being comfortable getting around on buses from a young age gave me a lot of independence. As a teenager I was able to take summer classes at the University near that old Woolworth’s. When I studied overseas, I was unafraid, even eager to conquer the public transit system there and get around on my own.
Tonight I tried a couple of times to tell stories about her to Bug. It’s always hard to tell how much she’s taking in, but there’s plenty of time in the future.
I brought down one of the little ceramic cats, the black one, and set it on the working altar. I lit candles.
Bug wanted me to “turn on all the candles” and I had to explain to her that there were enough.
I asked my Yaya to help me take care of my Bug, the way she’d helped raise me and my sister, my cousins and my niece. I could use the guidance, and Bug can use all the help I can get her. I miss her a lot, but I also feel like she’s listening.
Our conversations used to be a lot of silence too, in person and on the phone. Lots of stopping and thinking, I guess.
I still think about going left, and whether I had anything else to say to her, but even tonight, or last year on Samhain, I feel like it’s more silence than poetry. Our relationship wasn’t complicated: I love her, she loves me, she cared for me, she taught me. She let me be and didn’t ask questions, so I didn’t feel like I didn’t know how to answer. She let me play my weird little one person imaginary games in the yard, or lock myself in her room when my sister was driving me crazy in the afternoon. If I hid out in the attic, or spent the morning scribbling in the old steno pads or dollar store notebooks she gave me, well, that was fine and did I want a Tastykake with my sandwich for lunch?
That’s the parenting advice she wants me to take from her, as much as she tells me anything… She let me be weird. In turn, I have strong memories of learning to talk to spirits in that attic room, of feeling safe in those spaces to exist and to do what I wanted without being questioned. I want Bug to know that she is loved unconditionally and without explanation needed. I want Bug to do better for herself than I did, just like Yaya and my grandfather made sure my dad and my uncles were able to do better.
So I call to her, and I think of midnight at her kitchen table when neither of us could sleep and we weren’t bothering to talk, either, just co-existing in a way I wouldn’t have the vocabulary to appreciate until much later. We don’t have to talk much. Ancestor work is much more about presence than working with the powers, maybe because ancestors can trip a full array of memories I associate with them in a way other powers can’t; the vocabulary isn’t there in the same way.
Maybe that’s why I struggle with working with ancestors I don’t have personal associations with, now that I think about it. It will be a challenge to bring Bug up honoring a great-grandmother she doesn’t have that kind of experience with, seeing if the relationship becomes real for her in some other way or if it remains an abstract sort of honoring.