Reading List

A Grandmother’s Story

If the protagonist of a story indicates its intended audience, then Glenn Halak’s children’s book A Grandmother’s Story (Green Tiger Press, 1992) is odd—and my finding it among the free books our local library was giving away in a shelf cleaning of taped and battered texts more than 20 years ago makes sense, despite its gorgeous, split-page, saturated watercolor illustrations and compelling, rhyming, narrative verse. There I was then, a young mother in my early 30s, with three little boys, and I couldn’t get through a reading of this—which they never chose themselves as part of the piles we plowed through—without tears spilling out of my eyes and goosebumps covering my skin, flooded with the prescience of my sons’ adolescences and early adulthoods, the aspiration of my role and the role I wanted every adult who loved them to be for them, the pulsing of my mother heart. Now, we’ve all just metaphorically arrived home from the years of their stormy sojourns; I’m researching the possibilities for feminine aging—and I’m amazed by the resurfacing of this talisman, its additional layers of meaning offered by the “discarded” stamp on random pages throughout the story that the librarian applied decades ago, for what it is to be a muscular and determined older woman pursuing her vital vision. 
As the story goes:
“There was an old woman who rowed out to sea.
Her neighbors all thought she was mad as could be.
She rowed in the dazzle of dawn’s spangled light.
She rowed in the velvety star-studded night.
She rowed when the water was smooth and so still.
She rowed when the waves seemed to travel uphill.
She ate sour apples and drank ginger tea.
And then she arrived where she knew she must be.
And there she did wait on a cold granite stone,
despite harpoons of lightning and thunder’s low moan.
Then after the storm came a dark log a-bobbing,
with a fisherman holding on tightly, and sobbing.
The old lady leaned down and stretched out her hand.
It was her own grandson that she helped to land.
‘A miracle, Grandma!’ His grateful eyes glistened.
‘My dear one,’ she said, ‘my heart spoke and I listened.’
Then homeward they rowed through the dark and the dew,
all the neighbors amazed when they came into view.
Late that night, with her grandson tucked safely in bed,
all the stars above shining, the old woman said:
‘What a wonder the heart is; how wise it can be,
and as strong and as deep as our mother, the sea.’”