Summer at my grandparents was an endless game of imagination, lying in the grass with army blankets tented across the clothesline, the sacred tie give over to Grandma's "shows" in the afternoon, my grandfather on the back porch with a baseball game on the radio and the smell of cigarette smoke in the air, grasshoppers caught in a jar with holes poked in the lid, and tart cherries from the tree out back. I had no sense of time passing and the memories still leave a taste of bittersweet on my tongue.
We'd sit across from each other for hours, she and I, playing cards at the old oak kitchen table that had been waxed so often I could scrape a thumbnail across it and leave a mark. In a way, her stories became the mythology of my childhood. She'd talk about her life as if it was a song, with notes of joy and pain like harmony woven through the stories. Her husband running cattle on a Spanish land grant that stretched 100 miles on each side. The shop she opened in that little New Mexico town after the divorce - the first to sell "ready-to-wear." The bobcat and rattlesnakes my father brought home. She was a conjurer, making my father suddenly appear as a mischievous child who tried to ride the milk cow instead of an angry man who saw rebellion in nothing more than the flicker of an eye.
By the time I was in high school, life and work had carried me away from those carefree summer days. The day after my grandfather shot himself, I went to see her.