Best of 2009: She Who Holds Hour Hands

The following is a re-post from May 14th, days after my Nana's 80th birthday. She who holds hour hands also happens to have recently launched her very own Q&A gardening blog for southern California gardeners. Check it!

She watches him place the striped and solid pool balls in the triangle one by one. He explains to her what numbers are on which color and she listens intently, nods her head.

"Hm," she says. "Quite right about that."

She is his great-grandmother, his Nanana and he her first great-grandchild, sole great-grandson, first of the new batch of little darlings. He continues around the pool table, circling and studying and she moves toward him, scooting ever so slightly in her bench, a flower to the sun.

She studies Archer behind bespectacled eyes, through the filter of light strands and the dust motes they illuminate. She adjusts her weathered microscope with a slight cock of her head, sorting through memories, making room for this one here. This one, right now. This moment of quiet between them before the balls break.

And the clock stops for a moment before the Gods rush to knock on it with their gold and silver hands until tick, tick, tick... time crawls on.

We are all employed by time, I think, as I listen to their voices collide in a sort of duet: my Nana and her faded English accent, my son and his constant song.

There are decades that separate them but their closeness is clear and she speaks to him as if he was her peer, rather than a little boy with dirty fingernails.

"You have a beautiful voice," she says and he ignores her, concentrated on his project, oblivious to the melody he exudes.

"One, two, three... " he counts, as she counts backward. Their watches ticking clockwise and counter until
"Five, four, three..."
...their hands overlap.

(We are all employed by time.)

My Nana believes that she and Archer have met once before. Before he was born. Before she was old. Before.

"Just... Before."

When Archer was a baby I'd catch her whispering in his ears tales of remember when, asking him the kinds of questions one reserves for ghosts and cottage-cheese ceilings late at night.

And I would watch her watch him, wondering often how it felt to be responsible for so many lives. Children, grandchildren and now great...

"Do you ever look around," I ask, crossing over into the photograph, "at your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and think, I made this family. It is because of me that they exist..."

She thinks for a moment, pondering my question, then shakes her head.

"I've never thought about it before. Too busy watching everyone laugh, grow up."

Archer finishes counting the pool balls, organizes them in the triangle, placing the yellow 1 ball in the middle of the pyramid, surrounded by stripes.

By now the family is milling in and out of the pool room attached to my late uncle's office, a room untouched since his passing two years ago, empty save for the light that exists in his place. A light that exists in all of us as we flicker in the windowsills of one another's kitchens and hallways, weddings and anniversaries.

We are trick candles that cannot be extinguished by wind.

We all laugh and Archer picks up his triangle and patpatpaaaaaat, the balls go rolling across the table in fourteen different directions.

But not the cue ball. The cue ball doesn't move. Archer insists the cue ball stay safely by his side. He calls it his "ice cube" and he holds it in his hands, tiny globe with dings and scratches, seemingly fragile despite its strength.

My Nana turned eighty-years-old on Monday and in two weeks Archer will be four, their birthday celebrations days apart. And in the same way I want to stop the clock, hide the birthday cake from Archer, tuck the presents under the bed so do I want to keep my Nana away from the party hats. Don't blow the candles out.

"They make me want to live forever," she says about her grandchildren, smiling. "So I plan to do just that."

We agree she will outlive us all, writing books and taking canoe trips cross country, painting landscapes, telling stories. Watching the children play at her feet, leading their standing ovation.

There are days when I long to stop clocks, hide birthdays from little boys and older women, knowing quite well the things that time is capable of taking away.

...But far more often than that there are moments that serve as reminders of the immense benefits package time offers its employees, like wrinkled hands that open to tiny fingers and second hands that overlap with the minute.

Not to mention cue balls.

"Fear not the clock," I remind myself, "It is time that promotes us all."