In my father’s things, I find a paper bag containing hair from my grandmother, from a haircut she received in 1926. I find paperwork from my father’s first stint in rehab, completed just a month before I was conceived, during the holiday season of 1985 and 1986. The doctor had written that Allen’s prognosis was good. He seemed capable of making logical decisions about alcohol.
My oldest sister finds naked photos of our parents, whose divorce--each from their second go-round at nuptials--was finalized on my 21st birthday. Oddly, she insists I have to look at them too, but I refuse, and into the trashbag they go, along with the hair. The discharge paperwork from in-patient treatment goes into the growing pile of things to recycle, along with boxes of documents from the custody battle that won a different sister & I a life not spent in fear & battered women’s shelters, greeting cards, and progress reports from each of my father’s five children. There is a paper figurine in my father’s likeness, with string running from the popsicle stick on his back to the parachute made of coffee filters, made fifteen years ago when we sent him sky-diving for father’s day.
Months and months later, there are still stacks of boxes containing old photographs and scrapbooks in my basement room, pushed up against a wall and semi-hidden behind the futon. I cannot bring myself to sort through them, and only open one enough to see a bag full of dozens and dozens of headshots of my grandmother, some blurry and some in focus. Her hair is curled beautifully. I see my father in her face. On top of this box is also one of my grandmother’s diaries, this one written between May or June of 1938 and January 1939. She writes of opening a gym in Eugene, Oregon, with her first husband named Don--the father of my Auntie Karin who lived in Redondo Beach and liked ice cubes in her glasses of red wine--and of studying massage and kinesiology. She writes of financial worries and losing an oar to their boat in the river on a sunny day. She writes of arguing Hitler late into the night after her shifts at the salmon cannery, and she writes of hearing the War of the Worlds broadcast that Halloween night, thinking it was real and walking to her mother’s house with her husband, carrying what they could.
I think I know her better now than I did when she was alive, when I was seven or eight and she was a terribly old, thin woman who lived in a maze of a house, surrounded by stacks of newspapers and to-go containers. When she stuffed napkins in her sleeves at restaurants, “for later.” I don’t know if this is the case, but I’ve read the thoughts she told only to a page in a notebook, so maybe so. In one of her planners from the early nineties that she saved, and then my father saved after her, I see written on September 1st in her scratchy old woman’s hand, Ashley’s birthday, and then after, celebrated at the Hogranch, the name we Bensons adopted for our Woodinville home. I have no recollection of this celebration, but I think I know a photograph taken that day, of my sister Scarlet & me on Grandma Doris’s lap. Grandma Doris, I know, is smiling. My hair is white-blond. We are just back from Las Vegas, moving home to Washington after a four year absence.
I save my father’s writing, bits of prose tapped out on typewriters and dating from the 70s, the 80s, the early 90s. Less from later. I save his art, an old sketch of a shoe leaving through the Hogranch’s front door, another a self-portrait of an anguish. I can’t read the prose or hang the portrait, but I keep them now. Maybe when he is gone.
- Ashley Benson is a teacher, baker, small-time farmer, and writer from the Pacific Northwest. Her written work has only ever appeared on her own blog and her sister’s refrigerator. She lives in the Frelard neighborhood of Seattle with her cat, Clementine, and her partner, Patrick--although not for long. She can be found online at http://thisisnotreallife.tumblr.com/