I Wish I Was Grandma Moses

August 31, 2011

Shirley D’Auria was a most amazing and gifted human being. There are those rare people who enter your life, even if only for a brief time, who have a singular effect on you. Shirley was one of these. I knew Shirley when I was stationed in the Peace Corps in the Phillipines, as was she, but even in the short time I knew her, I was enchanted by her presence. She was a brilliant and beautiful shooting star who flashed through the night sky of our lives and then was gone all too soon.

Shirley left this plane of existence in 1999. I had not seen her in twenty-seven years. But I felt, and I still feel, the powerful tide of her love in the words of this, her last story to a friend.

I Wish I Was Grandma Moses

by Shirley D’Auria

They had pulled out my plumbing. It was gone along with the nasty mass that had been crawling up on my chi for who-knows-how-long. The tube was out of my nose (disgusting medieval contraption). The staples were out, too. That was a story. A beautiful Asian-American angel came smiling up to my bedside and said, “Hi. I’m Dr. Rhee and I’m here to take out your staples.”

Until then I had been visualizing the nasty pointed curly thing I use in the office and wondering if that’s what they were going to use on me. Trying to be brave I said, “So, Doctor, tell me about yourself.” She liked that. She got herself comfortable on the side of my bed and smiled and started working.

“Weeellll, I’ve been a medical student for 18 months.”

“What made you decide on medicine?” I asked.

“Weeelll, actually I had a hard time deciding between being a concert pianist and a doctor.”

I wanted to kiss her. Instead, I sighed deeply and let her tickle my ivories until she was done. Then I thanked her and reminded her that even though she may not play concerts, the piano could be a source of joy and beauty in her life and a way to balance the great pain she would experience as a doctor.

So all the basic maintenance was done and they had talked me into going right ahead with the chemo and I was scared to death. I was laying in my bed thinking, “You damn fool. The cancer didn’t kill you, so now you’re going to die of fright!” Then, for the first time since I had been diagnosed two weeks earlier, I cried.

I cried for my lost body parts, and for the fine, brave Yale New Haven doctors who treated me with respect. I imagined they had worked as carefully as if they were dismantling a nuclear bomb by hand. I cried for the considerable professionalism and genuine caring of the nurses and floor staff.

I remember Kim Kelly who cleaned my bathroom. All the while she was cleaning she was telling me about the moped accident that crushed her knee and how she was in the hospital for seven weeks and they told her she’d never walk again. But there she was cleaning my bathroom and I was so grateful for her in every which way.

When my mother saw me crying, she came and sat on my bed and comforted me with mother words and rubbed my legs with mother rubs. In that one minute I loved her again as I had as a child — deep and grateful and pure as I had before my father’s mental illness had driven up my walls. If only I had known that resolution would come so simply, I would have saved all those thousands of dollars on all those years of therapy.

Oh well, my therapist is on her way to vacation with my money this very minute. What could be bad?

Anyway, while mother rubbed, I noted that they had changed the pouch on my intravenous and wondered if they were slipping the chemo in on the sly because they knew I was so scared. Thinking that wasn’t a bad idea, I decided not to ask and began drifting off.

I slid into a level of deep relaxation. Not sleep exactly, but a deep interior place that was filled with a vision as clear as a bright, dry afternoon in June.

I was driving my yellow bug under a bright blue sky. I knew it was me because I could see my hairy Italian arm folded out the driver side window with an oversized band aid where the intravenous had been. And I knew it was my yellow bug because the driver side window framed the whole scene.

I was driving — or more like floating in front of old Jean’s house (she’s the lady across the parking lot from my house) and Jean was standing in her doorway looking like she was painted by Grandma Moses. She had two little dot eyes and a line smile, and she was dressed in primary colors. She was calmly smiling and waving at me with just a very slightly oversized right hand — not comically oversized — just big enough so that you knew she was created by Grandma Moses.

I let Jean’s warmth and love flow over me for a good long time and when I was quite content, another house appeared next to hers and I began floating toward it in my yellow bug.

It was Elena, Jean’s next door neighbor. She’s anorexic, but in my vision she looked happy with her two dot eyes and line smile waving at me with her ever so slightly oversized right hand, dressed in her primary colors. She was so comfortable and content to be standing in her doorway waving and smiling. She didn’t feel rushed or anxious or embarrassed. She just smiled and waved until I started drifting toward the next house.

I passed each one of my neighbors in their doorways in turn, letting the love and warmth of each soak deep into me. Then I drifted past Bias waving in his doorway. Not the doorway of the fancy penthouse apartment building where he lives now, but his little house with the wood burning stove and the day glow stars and planets on his bedroom ceiling. I drifted past Linn and Patty with their children Cassidy and Elliot waving from the doorway of their farm house (I’ve never seen their farm house) with a Grandma Moses dog and cat and goat nearby. I drifted past Rene and Mikey in their new house (I’ve never seen their new house). They looked so happy and in love smiling and waving to me from their doorway. Lyn smiled and waved with her slightly oversized hand from her doorway in Clendenine Square (I’ve never seen her house in Clendenine Square), and Lars and Nancy waved as I floated by their Texas house (I’ve never seen their Texas house).

And if you’re reading this, I drifted past you in your doorway, smiling with your two dot eyes and waving at me with your little big hand. I am feeling your warmth and love flowing deep in me as I drift back toward life. Your line smile and your sunflower dress are the greatest beauty I have ever known.

I wish you could feel Suzybelle kissing the tears of joy from my cheeks right now. I wish you could see how relieved she looks smiling at me with her little line smile. I wish this great tide of love washing over me, flows back to you in even greater measure, and that it washes back and forth over us forever.


One comment

  1. Of course, I knew Shirley and can hear her voice in this essay.

    I also recall her voice as an amateur chanteuse…Listening in amazement when she grabbed a mike to sing a few songs; she was good.

    I also recall visiting her while I was on an assignment in Buffalo. We spent the evening reliving some of our adventures as PCVs. We also grew to admit that was a time that even then was receding–almost unreal.

    Shirley was an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing this remembrance.

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