My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was Leora Winifred Romig. She hated her name. I don’t know why. I never asked and I don’t have the opportunity to ask anything of her anymore. She always went by “Lee”. My grandfather, William, always called Bill, called her “Smoke” or “Lee” or “Mother”. Never Leora.
I named my second daughter Liora. Spelled a bit different to have her own version of a name that belonged to someone else first.
It means, “I have light” or “God’s gift of light”.
Lee was many things, among them a librarian and a poet. I have always loved to read and write. One of the last times I was at her home in New Mexico we sat in her office as she pulled her framed poems from the wall and had me read them out loud to her. We talked about making recordings so she could listen to her words and, I flatter myself, my voice.
When she died, I was about 14 weeks pregnant with my own Liora, though I didn’t know she would be Liora yet.
When Lee died I was on my way to Fort Collins to celebrate my wedding anniversary.
When Lee died I cried in a red car and felt powerless.
When she died I inherited her books. Most she has labeled with call letters according to the Dewey Decimal System and alphabetized by author’s last name. Many are old and antique and are throughout my house as decoration and homage to the memory of she and my grandfather. “The Grands,” my family called them.
I am slowly reading the books. Each one is a new opportunity to discover something about her. To touch pages that last she touched. Some books still have the faint smell of her home. The smell of the Enchanted Forest and hot pine trees.
It is hard to make the choice to read them. Hard to know that with each page I am leaving myself with less to learn about her. Less new moments to share with her.
But the joy is deep also to turn pages and read words that she read and to get to wonder what thoughts and wonders the words caused in her.
I took a deep breath a few days ago and pulled a book from my shelf that belonged to Lee. Long Life by Mary Oliver.
I have heard of Mary Oliver for a long while. Yet, failed to read anything she has written. I associate her with Over the Rhine (one of my favorite bands) as they have spoken of her poetry in liner notes and elsewhere.
She smells a bit like Annie Dillard but tastes different. She isn’t quite as stark in her thoughts. A bit warmer, softer maybe? Her knowledge and desire and observation of nature is kin to Dillard but there isn’t so much science. Annie tends to make you gasp with her blend of science and emotional observation. I think Mary brings you around to the back deck and puts on the kettle and then shares her mind. But, then again, I’ve only read this one book so what do I know?
They both cause an ache in my chest. Part hope for a future with more time and space to observe and be quiet and part grief for my Granma, my first Leora.
I can still see her laying on her white chaise with her book. I can see the way her large, long fingers rubbed her forehead. She licked her fingers to turn pages. She had age spots on her hands. I remember wetting my fingers with my tongue when little to wash them away.
I like these words by Oliver,
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
This is a small telling of mine.
I do hope you look for and find one thing today to tell to someone else.