Unseen inheritance

My grandmother, Loretta, with one of her beloved dogs.

I had always expected that once I got pregnant that my adoration of dogs would wane. But here I am, lumbering well into my third trimester, and I continue to find dogs far more interesting than children. They catch my eye on the street far more than babies do. Perhaps I will love dogs less once I have a child of my own. I will, at least, expect to be less focused on them. But I think they will always matter to me. My grandmother, Loretta, shown above, never lost her lifelong love of dogs. We used to joke that she knew more about the family’s dogs than she did about her own grandchildren. And yet we did not resent her for it; it was part of her everlasting charm. She craved the company of dogs, perhaps because they shared her boundless enthusiasm for life.

Whenever I’m away from home, I look for dogs everywhere. They make me feel less homesick; they instantly brighten my mood. While in Charleston, Guion knew I’d want to linger by a dog park and so he let me ogle like a creep by the fence, just to watch the pups play for a bit. I recently returned from SXSW in Austin, where there was no shortage of street dogs to admire. A dog-loving colleague and I would take pains to point dogs out to each other. And then, when I come home to Pyrrha, I am Lazarus, fresh from the tomb: You never saw such rejoicing! Such disbelief! Such yips of ecstasy!

How can you not harbor a lifelong obsession with such a creature? A silent, joyful, juvenile wolf who sleeps in your home and gives you daily offerings of unending love?

. . .

In thinking about our unknown child, our fast-approaching firstborn, I wonder about the unseen inheritances that he or she will receive. I am particularly interested in the personality traits that skip a generation or two. Will she have her great-grandmother’s infectious laugh (and fixation on canines)? Will he have his great-grandfather’s gift of playing music by ear?

“Unseen” is the word that comes to me, although it is perhaps not quite right. “Unknown” or “unanticipated” are probably closer to what I mean. But I like the idea of being blindsided by a familial similarity. You look at your kid one day, when she is six years old, and you realize she has her grandmother’s eyebrows and her great-grandfather’s genteel manner of storytelling.

This interests me. I am not sure how to say more about it than that.

. . .

“The digital clutter of our lives doesn’t merely make us anxious, interrupting our train of thought and blocking us from longer periods of silence and the deeper thinking that can go with it. Our digital clutter redesigns our world around the temporary. Constant interruptions turn us into amnesiacs who are required to respond, reply, and react from moment to moment. This is why we have so little memory of what happened last week, let alone what happened last year or twenty years ago. We are constantly threatened with interruption, so we experience each moment as something that could easily be discounted, could easily be erased or subsumed by some more important message. Our minds, in other words, are filled with the clutter of what comes next: messages and tweets and texts yet to be received. We live in a world of past and future clutter. We are boxed in. There is no space for where we are right now.”

— Heather Havrilesky, “Stuffed,” from her new book, What If This Were Enough?

. . .

Learning more about birth continues to cement my feminist leanings. I continue to trust in the incredible power and strength and wisdom of women. The main things I have gleaned thus far are that women should labor in the place they feel safest, and women should guide other women through labor and birth, as they have done for millennia. I’m not sure this is a realm where men get to have much say (and, in this way, it feels right to treat birth as holy, in the “set apart” sense of the definition). We’ll see how it goes. I am trying not to have any expectations, because I know that none of it can be organized or planned. It will be a great exercise in surrender, an act that I do not typically welcome.


My Gran, my Dad’s mom, passed away this morning.


Midwest trip 2012
With her five children.

Gran was constantly laughing. Even after her stroke a year ago robbed her of speech, she kept laughing. It was the kind of bright, infectious laugh that lit up a room, that made everyone want to remain in close proximity to her.


She loved NASCAR, motorcycles, dobermans, dogs of all kinds (more than people, for the most part), dental hygiene, painting, the beach, her convertible, and interior design, among other things.


I liked to call her the “patron saint of painting.” She painted almost every surface in her beloved cottage in Grand Rapids (even once attempting to paint the carpet).

The last conversation we had, just about a week before her stroke, we had just moved into our home and she called me to check in. We talked about her coming to visit us in the spring, as she had never been to Charlottesville before. She asked me what we had been working on, and I told her that we’d painted the fireplace and the surrounding ceramic tile white. “What kind of paint did you use for the tile?” I told her that we used an oil-based paint. “Oh, honey,” she said, “I love you, but that was the wrong thing.” She laughed for a bit. “I painted tile in my kitchen with that kind of paint, and it started chipping a week later.”

Sure enough, a week later, after we learned about her devastating stroke, the paint started to chip in front of the fireplace, revealing the old red tile underneath.

Dad and me with Gran, February 2014.


It is hard to convey in words how endlessly FUN she was. I don’t think anyone has had a grandmother as hilarious. Spending time with her was always like hanging out with this really cool woman who happened to be related to you, and so you were always marveling: How did she get to be this cool?

She was independent, forthright, and sassy. She let you know what she wanted and when she wanted it.

Once, she drove Guion and I back to Ohio, and she let us know as soon as we got in her car: “Listen, I love you two, but we can’t talk much on the drive, because the race is on.” NASCAR or maybe the Indy 500, I don’t remember, but she loved her racing. She switched on the radio and that’s what we listened to until it was over. And then we talked about her family, how much she fought with her sister and her judgmental Dutch Reformed family, and about Michigan life.

The tooth brusher
Brushing her teeth, right after dinner. The most fastidious woman you’ve ever met, when it came to dental hygiene.


Southern Living
Family vacation in the Outer Banks.

When this photo above was taken, we were on a family holiday in the Outer Banks. She adored the ocean and couldn’t get enough of it. Kelsey and I were sitting out on the deck with her, and she was flipping through some magazines. Alex had made the three of us (very) salty margaritas, and we were laughing and talking while we drank them and looked out at the ocean. Kelsey and I decided to paint our toenails, and she watched us and chatted.

Later, after we got inside, Kelsey and I looked at our nails, and they looked terrible: all clumpy and gross. We exclaimed that they turned out horribly, and Gran looked at us and said, very matter-of-factly, “Oh, yes, you’re not supposed to paint your nails in the sun. The hot sun will ruin them as they dry.” She started laughing. We demanded to know why she hadn’t stopped us from painting them. And she said, with a face full of mischief, “I just wanted to see what would happen.”


Lucy and Loretta
My grandmothers: Lucy and Loretta.

Two nights ago, I had a dream about Gran and my mom’s mom (Lucy, aka Ma-Maw). Lucy and Loretta have been dear friends ever since they were brought together by my parents’ marriage. As you can see from the photo above, they had a great deal of fondness for each other.

In my dream, Lucy and Loretta got a townhouse together in a retirement community. It was the present day, but Gran could speak and move around on her own, and somehow, them moving in together made them younger. They were having the best time as roommates, and they just wanted to party all the time. We kept asking to come visit, and they kept saying, Oh, we’re too busy, not this week, maybe next. But we all knew they were just partying hard and wanted to be independent ladies.

The dream made me laugh a little when I woke up, but when I recounted it to Guion, I couldn’t retell it without crying.


Gran, love you forever and always. What a gift it was, to know you.

Gran, we miss you so much already. The coolest and most cheerfully sassy woman I know away this morning.