Sleight of Hand

While in the process of researching, I thought I’d share a memory.

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Painesville, Ohio, on the other side of town. It’s now a long drive, longer then in the days before I-90. They lived in a large white house on Doan Avenue and had some property, enough for a vegetable garden  as well as a several fruit trees.

My family visited my grandparents on Sundays and holidays. My mother spent mornings of these visits getting us dressed and taming our cowlicks with a wet comb before we clambered into the car for the drive. Some weekends, when we stayed late or the weather was bad, we stayed the night. I slept in the extra single bed in my aunts’ room.  Always an early riser, one morning I woke to a silent house in a room still dimmed in sepia gray in early dawn. I heard dishes clinking below in the kitchen. I crept out of bed and tiptoed downstairs. There was my grandmother under the yellow light of a single light bulb standing by the sink. She wore a light cotton robe and was brushing her hair, stroking it from the roots to where it fell past her knees. I was dumbstruck. She always wore her hair up. I had no idea that she had so much hair.

My grandmother turned and saw me standing in the kitchen doorway. Smiling, she bundled her hair up and into a knot and secured it at the base of her head with a pin, in less than a second. It was magical – a sleight of hand. I believe I wondered — what else about my grandmother didn’t I know? Now I wonder what she choose not to reveal and why not? What could she not reveal for whatever reason? I am reminded of my mother’s efforts to replicate my grandmother’s recipes, without luck. My mom laughingly wondered if my grandmother left an ingredient or two out to preserve the propriety of her pastry recipes. She thought it more likely that when writing down the recipes, my grandmother had made her best guesses about measurements, and that for years, my grandmother had been creating nut rolls and noodles with a pinch of this, a handful of that, with another kind of sleight of hand. It was the same way she was able to root a plant in a jarful of water and nurture it until she transplanted it in the yard. My father inherited my grandmother’s green thumb, and when I had a house with a yard I demonstrated the same trait, transplanting perennials so successfully that they almost overtook my garden.

The photo with this post is of my grandmother with my older brother in her lap, sometime in the early ’60’s. Yes, she has her hair bundled up under that hat.



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