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Memoir Nonfiction

Letter to my Grandmother

My grandmother suffers from dementia. These are my letters to her. Your fingernails were long and well manicured. Long, gentle strokes you made on my tiny back.

You are my grandmother. I am your grandson.

When I was a child, I would scamper through the halls of your home in Drakes Branch, Virginia. If I was rowdy or needed settling, you would call to me, “Come over here and I’ll scratch your back,” and I would place my body down at your feet before you in the floor of the living room.

Your fingernails were long and well manicured. Long, gentle strokes you made on the naked skin of my tiny back. A yawn would try to overtake me, rising from my breast. My eyelids would fall heavy, dancing a slow dance open then closed.

Papa sat in the recliner to the right of us. He wore a dark blue short-sleeve work shirt and his hair was parted to the side. His black rimmed glasses were always close by in his shirt pocket — sometimes he would take them out and fumble in his hands a note of some kind to read. He used to jot things down on tiny scraps of paper, if you recall.

Behind us on the wall were pictures of all your grandchildren. I am the youngest in these photos — the one on the bottom right, back then — your youngest grandchild.

When you scratched my back, it calmed me. I can still feel the gentle stroke of your white-tipped fingernails on my back if I think about it enough, if I sit still long enough. Sometimes I wish you could still scratch my back, even now that I am older and grown with children of my own.

“Come over here and I’ll scratch your back,” you would say.

It calmed me. You calmed me.

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Photo: Diana House. “Manicured.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.

2 replies on “Letter to my Grandmother”

Oh, Jeff. Dementia is such a horrible road to walk. I am so sorry you are losing your grandmother by inches. I am glad you have sweet memories and hope on a visit she might smile to hear some of them.

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