The last thing my grandmother gave me was poison ivy.
She died nearly a year ago, and like all dead family members, she is complicated. I have my own story of her life & of our relationship. It is mine, & it is private, just as my dad's and his sister's and my sister's and my grandmother's sisters'. What I will say is that, while I didn't get to listen to her play as much piano as I liked, my last visit to her included watching her help my toddler play piano. It was how I knew she was saying goodbye.
My daughter brought out a different type of love from my grandma. A blooming that was joyous & gutting to watch--knowing somehow that she wouldn't be with us when Madeline was able to make memories she could hold onto. So, now, there are pieces of our relationship nestled around our home. A pair of small glasses that hold the perfectly-sized gimlet. The remainder of her sticker collection, now added to my daughter's craft supplies. Her piano.
Well after the dust of her death had settled, my dad called to ask if I would like her garden gloves. I knew they would fit well. I knew it would be a way for me to hold onto her & continue our conversations. I knew I would wear them while continuing to wonder how the becoming-with and entanglements and twisty-turny ways of relating that fill the theory I use in my research play out in our most intimate relations, particularly after one of us can no longer clearly participate in the relating. My grandmother continues to have an influence--ripples or shock waves, depending on the moment.
How do we continue our relating, & how will my daughter experience my grandmother's life? It was one of the first loves to wash over her, & it will enable her to learn an instrument--uncharted territory for me. Ripples...
These ripples feel particularly pressing lately, as I used her purple floral garden gloves to prepare our fall garden. I thinned out the plants long past their prime due to cabbage moths and odd weather fluctuations. I brushed the hair from my face, the sweat from my temples, the flies from my shoulders.
And it took nearly a week, as the blisters began to appear, to realize that somewhere on those gloves was the last bit of touch I'd receive from my grandparents' home. Was the poison ivy oil from her own gardening, from small vines creeping into bushes or from roots anonymous and tucked into the mulch? Or was the oil from somewhere else, something else, & I simply needed it to be a connection back to her, to the lawn stretching out from their porch, to the home my grandpa built?
These moments of connection have been on my mind, not only as the blisters swell, but as I get back into reading on multispecies ethnography. Eva Hayward's fingereyes and Greenhough's look at how we communicate & live with viruses were at the top of the reading list for the multispecies relations course I'm auditing this semester, and both have me wondering how I absorb my interactions with others--the remnants of my grandmother's influence on this world, the plants I cultivate & eradicate. How is my body communicating with others, & how do these communications extend past the species or body or even life of a loved one to just their "texture," to use Hayward's language--holding onto the electric feeling of skin that has just been touched?
The oil, anointing & blistering, becomes in & of my body, and now the ripples that connect me to my grandparents, my grandparents' land to my own, and humans to poison ivy, are telling me new things about myself. I'm trying to listen.