As a child, I remember reading a book about a snake that struggled severely with gluttony. Throughout the vividly colored pages, he ate apples and pears the same. His green lips wrapped around wildebeests and gazelles, sucking them into his bottomless guts. Alas, at the great conclusion, he ate himself. He started at his tail and, like a string of green spaghetti, he slurped the rest of himself in. Munched into nothingness.
The moral of the story was, ultimately, greed. As a kid, it was easier to keep the metaphors closer to their mothers. I could just think about how greedy that snake was and how happy I was to know he was a prisoner to the pages. Childhood’s weakness, and strength, has always been the blind faith we held in our tiny chests. Only when I was older would I understand that snake is very real. He is not colorful, nor is he confined to the pages of a children’s book.
Death, serpentine and starving, eats whatever he wants. Patient and coiled, he huddles into himself to keep his cold blood flowing while he lies in wait. Ghastly gobbler, he is one hell of a gourmand complete with a forked tongue and scales.
Dragging your belly over the years, the metaphor remains the same. Death you are nothing if not greedy.
I was recently in a craft store thinking about famished snakes and shopping for a new journal when you popped into my head. Somewhere between the scrapbooking stuff and sparkle glue, I thought of you. Something that I had perhaps forgotten, or maybe not yet felt, was how much crafts will always remind me of you. Underneath the bath of fluorescent lighting in the windowless craft store, I recalled a memory or two. Somewhere by aisle fourteen, with both feet planted on the LVT floors, I crawled across my brains to you.
Since there were a myriad of things you taught me, it’s hard to isolate the most important. Perhaps those types of things shouldn’t be isolated but, instead, taken as a complete set. Like an anthology of sorts. Either way, I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned from you.
You taught me to tie my shoes. For whatever reason, and it could have been a handful of them as I was not an easy child, I was having a hard time grasping how to tie my shoes. The bunny ears technique simplified nothing. Was it over, under, then over? Or, was it over, over, then under? I digress, it was you who finally got through to me. There was a patience inside of you that was from a world now extinct.
With that same patience, and a couple pots and pans, you taught me, my sisters, my aunts, and my cousins how to cook. A three quarters cup of instruction and a half tablespoon of salt went a long way. My sisters and I would spend hours together in that kitchen over the years and it’s in retrospect that I now know the beauty of those moments. You fostered magic for us to share in.
I did not have enough patience, or desire, to take up sewing but you did teach my cousins and sisters. During those hours of study, I elected to play outside in the Arizona soil. In the field next to your house I dug trenches and foxholes for my G.I. Joes. We carried out various missions, fighting the insurgents and protecting the liberties of those back home. There were good men lost in the field next to your house.
Everything I learned from you, however, is dwarfed by the crafts. Every summer, when we would go up to spend time with you, you would have an entire schedule set up for us with crafts as the milestones. With our young hands covered in paint, we splashed colors onto clay pots that later held plants in your front yard. Lead met heavy paper and I drew worlds from the right quadrant of my imagination. Under your supervision and instruction we would create. Through various mediums and methods you taught us the freedoms of creativity. The four of us in your sewing room, I can see it again. I can smell the dust and feel the ceiling fan.
In your sewing room there were old pictures of you that hung on the walls. Your hair was black in the pictures, a beautiful black. I can see them again too. There is one picture I distinctly remember of you standing in front of a car. It must have been the late 60s given the make of the vehicle and the style of your hair. A yellow Coors can is in one of your hands while the other is propping you up on the hood of the car. Posed and smiling, you never smiled in pictures, you were on the exit ramp of youth.
On the opposite wall there was a black and white portrait of your mom and dad. Taken somewhere in Chicago, it was captured sometime long ago. Before you were a mom. Before you were my grandma. I loved to stare at that picture and think about your parents, and you loved to tell me about them. You would always talk about how cold Chicago was. Closing my eyes, underneath that ceiling fan, I would imagine us being the same age. We were in Chicago. It was cold.
One summer in particular you had planned for us to make mosaic jewelry trays. Grandpa had some extra tiles in his work shop, and you had me break them. You knew that I would enjoy that part. In a plastic bag outside I smashed up a couple tiles with one of grandpa’s hammers. With a fear similar to the one I have of death, I made sure to put back grandpa’s hammer from where I got it.
We took the shards and laid them out, the four of us again in that sewing room. Our spaceship that drifted through the galaxies of genesis. Each jagged edge was a perfect line, it was all in how we chose to see it. It was magic, man.
That’s what I will always remember you as, the patient hands that showed mine how to create. The sweet words that were never cruel, even when they could have been. Inside of you lived a tenderness and beauty that came from the same creator who gave you one green eye, and one blue. Your actions have outlived you, and that’s why craft stores will always remind me of you.
Towards the end, when you had crepe paper for skin, when your bones were like the popsicle sticks we used to paste together, and the cancer stirred in your insides like black yarn, we grew too old for crafts. You were too tired to sew, and too sick to cook. My sisters and I grew up, and summers were stolen by other obligations. The sewing room spaceship sat docked, indefinitely.
When I was moving back from Denver, I had planned on stopping along the way to visit. There had been an unseasonal, almost unnatural, snowfall in Kingman and I called you as I drove through. We both decided it best for me to keep rolling on home, I could come out to see you later. Oh, how I regret not braving the snow. Anyone that says they don’t have regrets is selling something and I will be goddamned before I buy that.
Well, you died a couple months later. I never did get back out to Kingman when you were well enough to know I was there. I am sorry for that, my soul is sorry for that. I never got to thank you for all the crafts.
If you were to read this now, I would want you to know that I haven’t stopped creating. My sisters haven’t either. Nor my cousins, nor anyone in our family that was touched by you. We still talk about you, your multi-colored kind eyes, and your beautiful legacy. The mosaic that was your life, jagged edges and all, have left behind one hell of a masterpiece. It sits proudly on the mantel in my soul.
That starving serpent ate my grandma. He didn’t care that she was kind, about her family, or her hobbies. The smell of cancer started the salivation and the rest was nothing more than vocation to him. Slithering through the heart of a family, he cocked his head back and did what he does. Glassy eyed with elliptical pupils, he looked through it all. He was already on to his next meal.
Hope, as a craft that I choose to create under the instruction of perfect creator, is what I hold in front of that snake. Pipecleaners of joy, construction paper of victory, and ribbons of eternity garnish my position into that beast’s crook. I have faith that there was one underdog that crawled out of his guts. I have faith that snake will have his tail shoved down his vile throat one day. There will come a day when he eats himself.
And when that day comes, I hope it hurts like hell.