When I was a boy, we used to visit my grandma Jodie’s house. Grandma Jodie was a short, quiet woman when I knew her. I only knew her after the great pain of losing her son to the public violence of a fighter jet crash. Truth is I don’t know how quiet she was before that.
The house was filled to the brim with craft. Ceramics, quilts in progress, all manner of hand crafts. On one end was a small chrome edged formica table. One of the square sides was up against a wall. Plugged into the wall in a night-light was a glowing, luminous column of glass the size of a child’s pinky finger. It was filled with bright red liquid churning with bubbles and spiraled ever upward. The column grew from an acorn shaped shell of Christmas red and green plastic, glowing from an inner light. I never knew what this thing was but I was obsessed with it and would go to see it whenever I was there.
I don’t remember being there enough to ever feel entirely easy. My father’s absence hovered over every visit —the pain of his non-being; of all we’d lost together.
Years later I found a photo of my dad and mom sitting at that table when they were in their teens or early 20’s. I didn’t see the light but I recognized the same corner where I had sat staring at it. I painted him there looking straight into the camera in the style of candid family photos. I liked his pose. He seemed at once effortlessly comfortable and crammed, folded around that table in a tiny space. He fitted himself into it in a way I recognize with my own body.
This year our Christmas tree was too dark. I didn’t get all the strings of lights undone before the girls started putting ornaments up and it was too late. But I wanted more light. I ordered a string of those bubble lights and carefuly wove them into the decorated tree. I see them now across the room bubbling madly, glowing warm and I feel connected to that place, that corner of the table, that mother and son, now both dead. I burn my Christmas lights and remember.