Hildie S. Block and
Brian MacDonald

Brian MacDonald
Inspiration Piece

Strength of 102
Hildie S. Block

“To Nana!” Gabby took a passionate lick at her ice cream.  We had left the dorm after Gabby had gotten the “call.”  Gabby and Sera’s great-grandmother, 102 years old, had passed away.  Gabby went to fetch her cousin Sera who lived in the same hall, and together they had decided that we must get rocky road ice cream, because it was Nana’s favorite.  “The road may be rocky, but it’s tasty, too!” Nana used to say.   Nana was old, wrinkled and quite frankly, amazing.

I came along because I had the car.  Also, Sera and I were getting serious.  So I should be there.  I spent holidays with her family this year.  I had met Nana.  Nana was born in 1885.  Been widowed by WWI.  She’d celebrated the right to vote, lived through prohibition, raised four children, worked during World War II making blankets for the soldiers abroad.  She grew a garden every year.  Still baked.  Had “secret recipes” and pet names for every grandchild and great-grandchild.  She was a force of nature.

We got our ice cream cones and went wandering around because my mother didn’t allow eating in her car.   Sera was silent since the call had come in.  I was worried, but only a little.  Gabby stopped on a traffic circle and looked up at the statue.  One of those things you see all the time but never, see, you know?  She turned and stared at the statue.  I was conscious of my meter ticking down, and Sera and I stood on either sides of her like bookends and stared up at the strangely lit statue.

I hoped they would be okay with Nana’s passing.  I mean she was 102.  I was only 21 and my grandparents were pretty much a fading memory.  The remaining one was across the country in a nursing home with no memory that I exist. When I see her she thinks I am my father.  I don’t correct her.

I don’t bother to correct her because my father died of a heart attack when I was a high school senior and that’s too painful to put my grandmother through every time I see her.  So for her, I’m her little Raphie.

My mother died in a car accident last year.  She was the passenger. Her friend was driving them home from book club and a kid barreled through a light. He survived.  So did her friend.  My mom took the whole impact.  It’s a weird place to be, without siblings or cousins, parents, or grandparents, but comforting two young women as they grieve their awesome 102 year old great-grandmother.

The statue – a woman, vaguely Greek with draped robes, vaguely Biblical contenance, plaque impossible to read – oddly lit and with hands palms down – looked somewhat questioning toward the heavens, her 1970s Farrah Fawcett hair perfect.

“It’s all running through her hands,” I said.  It was true, the way the statue was lit, arms outstretched, the golden light cascaded down from her hands as if, as if, she couldn’t hold onto any of it.

“Oh, that’s a horrible thing to say!”  Gabby crunched into the cone, teeth first.   Sera just stared up at the statue.

“Why?”  I turned and stared at her for the first time.  My ice cream was melting and dripping down the side of the cone.  I licked it.

“She’s pulling the power of the earth up – so you can see it.  See she knows it’s there, but you don’t.  So she’s showing it to you.  She’s summoning it like a superhero.”

I shook my head.  Gabby could get like this.  Too out there.  The result of too many late night study sessions for Art History.

I grabbed Sera’s hand.  I leaned in toward her ear, “We should go.  The meter,” but Sera now stood rapturous, gazing at the statue, the statue that had been invisible but now was suddenly there and part of our lives.  As if it were speaking to her.  As if she got it.  She didn’t get it.  Her family was intact.  She didn’t get anything.

A single tear ran down her cheek. She caught it on the napkin from the ice cream cone and laid it at the statue’s feet.

I went to take it to throw it out, but she grabbed my wrist. “Leave it,” she said in voice more forceful than I thought was in her.

The next day, a plane took them back home, to Nana.  A cascading series of events erupted that caused Sera to stay, and Gabby to return to college alone.  Sera’s father’s business had lost money – her mother had returned to work, not just work but long hours.  Her siblings were falling apart, grades, trouble.  It had become clearer to Sera what was important on the trip.  The funeral.  A long life.  Family.

And with Sera gone, Gabby and I became closer.  I could make excuses, but these things happen.

Three years later we were married.

And 10 years after that, she got the doctor’s report that wasn’t so good.  And since then, I’d been in a fog.  A fog of work and home and repeat.

On a business trip, after meetings had ended, I found myself wandering around this, our old stomping grounds.  Ice cream cone again in hand.  Standing in front of this same statue again.

It was cleaner than it had been back in the 80s.  The lights brighter and better directed.  I cocked my head and stared again at the light – trying to see it for what Gabby had seen.

It was clear to me.  Life fell through your hands and you couldn’t grasp at it.  There was no doubt.

And then the fog began to break.  And I sat down hard on the marble of the circle.  Heaving.  Heaving is the only word for it.  Those weren’t tears, they were solid pellets of petrified grief.  They rattled onto the marble like hail.  They were absorbed into the ground and disappeared.

And that only made me angrier.  I slammed my fist down onto the marble where a pellet disappeared.  The pain jarred me back.  I rested my sore hand and pounding head onto the cool marble.

I don’t know how long I laid there.  Flat, now, on my stomach, asleep?  In the middle of a traffic circle?

When I looked up from my prone position, I could see it.  From that ground level up.  It was true was Gabby had said.  The angel was pulling the strength from the ground so I could see it.

I don’t know how long I stared at that vision.  My eyes blurred and came back into focus.  I felt the strength of those who had cared for me emanate from the ground and into my core.

The fog was gone.  The world was clearer than the day after a big storm when you slide new prescription glasses on for the first time.  I had the strength of 99 Nanas.  Plus one Gabby.  And two missing parents.  And I strode from that circle in search of adventure.


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