I've been dreaming of my grandmother lately. She would have been 87 last week. In my dreams she is on a bicycle, wearing one of her stylish hats from the 1950s.
When she died my grandfather invited me and my mother to go through her closet. I slipped on her shoes and tried hard to make my soles fit into the grooves her feet had created. We ran our fingers through the sweatshirts she had embroidered in flowers and hummingbirds. And then, at the very top: a big green hatbox. I pulled it down and it took me a moment to spring it open. Inside there were hats of many colors: purple hats, green hats, black hats, hats with lace, hats with curly bows. A singular white hat, its fabric delicate and neat. There was something about the careful way she had stored them, deeply embedded in that big green box, one for each decade she'd been alive, none of them crushed, all of them well-kept, well-loved.
I tried trying them on, but only a few fit my head. Many of them were too small, or perhaps I wasn't tilting them at just the right rakish angle. When I put them on I half expected to hear her thoughts--to embody who she was the last time she was wearing them. I knew that she'd been married in one of them. Surely she'd worn some of them to church, others to social functions. Did the world look differently when she was wearing a hat? Did it mean something? Was she making a statement?
Grief is a funny thing. It has been well over a year since she died and still I have days when I have a sudden, desperate need for her. It's a specific and surprising panic. It isn't a fear of death, or what happens after. It's the mournful recognition that there are things in life that simply go uncommunicated, at least in ways that we understand.
On nights like this, when I find myself missing her, I like to take down her box of hats and try them on for size, to see if maybe this time, they'll fit.