There is in her mind a safe and quiet spot, though she doesn't always remember where she put it. When she is in need of a place where she can hide...where she can bury her face in something warm and soft and hear again the steady rhythm of life beating in a heart not her own, she remembers that safe and quiet spot...and she goes there.
She is two. Or she is four or five or six. She can't be more than nine because nine is when her grandmother developed leukemia and nine is when her grandmother died.
However old she is...she is still small enough to be picked up. Or to be invited up. And held in the ample lap and bosom of her father's mother. The grandmother that is old and wrinkly and smells of soft powder.
The other grandmother, younger, holds her, too. But in a smaller lap. The other grandmother is the grandmother that she does things with -- the library and walks and cooking and laughing and discussing things that small minds concoct.
But this is the farm grandmother. The Grandma and not the Nana. It is the Grandma holding her that she remembers most.
So, she is young and small. And she is held.
Grandma picks her up. This year. And this year. And the next year.
This next year, Grandma says, as she always does, "You have grown!"
And this is the year that Grandma doesn't scoop her up and whisk her away to a rocker, though her little brothers are still scoopable and whiskable and rockable.
She worries, seeing her baby brother in her grandmother's arms, that she has been somewhat replaced. But she says nothing. Just sits in the big farm kitchen watching Grandma rock baby Jay.
She loves Jay. And is proud of him. And glad for him that Grandma is rocking him.
She isn't jealous...and doesn't wish him away. But she worries that her own lap time is over for good and she is afraid.
If a little girl gets too big to be held and rocked...what then does she do?
When will she breathe deeply and smell the scent of soft, aged skin and a woman's favorite powder? When will she know again the feel of an apron against her cheek that carries with it the aroma of this morning's bacon frying and tonight's cinnamony apple pie?
When will she snuggle up against a woman softer than a pillow and stronger than iron? When will she hear the voice of a woman deep in the heart?
"Kim" -- her name -- she hears often. But in the timbre in her Grandma's chest, "Kim" sounds magical...and deep...and mystical...and safe...and...enduring.
If she is so big that Grandma cannot pick her up. If she is too big to be invited to climb into her Grandma's lap. What then?
She doesn't remember Jay falling asleep. Or that Jamie is outside with Grandpa and the piglets.
She knows that Mom is sitting at the table as Jay is rocked and they are talking -- Mom and Grandma. So she sits...in the heat of a summer kitchen with a breeze blowing through the open windows...listening to the talk and watching her brother snuggle in their Grandma's arms.
"I've grown," she thinks as the conversation and rhythm of the rocking chair drift around her and through her.
Her arms are longer. Her legs are longer. Her knees are knobby and her legs are white because it is early summer and her shorts are new. She is not so grown that her feet touch the floor when she sits in the big dining room chair, though. And she thinks about that as she sits sideways in the chair watching her grandmother and watching her mom.
She puts one arm around the back of the chair and one arm on the big dining table and scootches a little closer to the edge of the side of the seat...and her dangling bare feet touch the cool wooden floor. But only with the toes.
Since she has grown and now her feet touch the floor...she stays put a while. Listening. Watching. Feeling -- the breeze and the floor and the bit of sweat.
She doesn't notice when Jay falls asleep and Mom takes him upstairs to put him in the crib.
The crib is in "her" room. The room she stays in whenever they all visit Grandma and Grandpa. It was Daddy's crib. And everyone -- all the cousins -- even she -- has slept in it at one time or another. It is Jay's turn now.
The crib is by her bed and at night she listens as Jay sleeps his baby sleep beside her. It too is a safe and comforting thing...listening to baby sleep. But not the same as being held and rocked in Grandma's lap.
So Mom and Jay have gone upstairs.
It is just Grandma and herself in the big farm kitchen for now.
She looks at her Grandma and smiles a small smile.
Grandma smiles back.
"Grandma?" she says. "Can I ask you a question?"
"It's 'may I'," says Grandma who was a school teacher in old-timey days in a one-room schoolhouse. "And yes, you may."
"Am I too big?"
Grandma doesn't even have to ask "Too big for what?" -- she only holds out her arms and says, "Come here, child."
And she goes over to stand in front of her Grandma. Afraid that she will be told she is indeed "too big" -- and that powder and softness and the sound of her name in her Grandma's heart are a thing of the past.
"No," says Grandma. "I mean...come *here*, Kim."
And she pats her lap before spreading her arms wider. "My lap," Grandma says. "Come here and I will rock you."
Still worried that she is too big...she climbs cautiously into Grandma's lap.
Grandma touches her head and pulls it close to her shoulder, then rests for a moment with one arm encircling her back to front, and one hand brushing her still baby-fine hair.
"Kim," she whispers, "You'll never be too big to be held by Grandma Giger."
And they rock.
And she is content deep inside herself and it seems the two -- the Grandma and the Child -- become one for a while. They breathe in and they breathe out at the same time. She listens to her Grandmother's heart and realizes that her own is beating in rhythm with it.
When Mom comes downstairs, she smiles at her daughter -- her eldest -- wrapped up in the arms of her Grandmother's love. And she sits at the table. The two grown-ups begin talking again...of things that she knows little of...because for all her being so grown up now, she is still a little girl.
She stays silent. Listening. Watching. Feeling...the woman that is her grandmother, her father's mother, the beginning of the world for all she knows so far.
She doesn't move because it seems as if a magical wonderful spell of love has been woven...and it is soft and fine as a fairy spider web...and she doesn't want a sudden motion to break it away.
She is 20 now. Or 30 or 37 or 41. She can't be more than 41 because her birthday hasn't come yet this year.
She doesn't ever remember leaving her Grandma's lap that day...though she knows, of course, she did.
There was dinner that night.
There was a party for Grandma and Grandpa's 60th anniversary.
There was a funeral and tears.
No, she doesn't remember leaving Grandma's lap that day. Though she's walked many places since then and knows of course that she did.
But she still can hear the sound of her name...against the backdrop of her Grandmother's heartbeat...and it quiets her and stills her...in ways she can't explain.
And she wonders now...that magic she felt? How much of it was childhood fantasy...and how much of it was God...knitting together two hearts forever...?
It was the last time that Grandma ever had the chance to hold her that way again.
And now, she thinks the magic was God.
* "Heartbeat , It's A Lovebeat" Lyrics by the DiFranco Family