Go say hello to Tess my grandmother would say
two minutes after I'd walked in the door.
I came to say hello to you I'd think
knowing I'd get no good out of her until I went and said hello to Tess.
I'd puddle down the hill, borrowed wellies slapping against my calves. There's the turf shed, the spot where Granddad used to park his car, the milk machine. There's me straining the milk into the tank. The field where I burned rubbish and picked lettuce and rhubarb; now it has a trampoline. Stray hens, Tess's haybarn, cowsheds, the trough of rainwater where Theresa rinsed her blonde Timotei-ad hair. I rinsed my hair in that trough once ... the water fairies laughed at me (and withheld silky blondeness).
The net curtains never moved, but Tess and Paddy watched approaching visitors from the table.
Later just Tess.
The stiff door handle announced my arrival; I made a show of cleaning my wellies on the worn mat. We described the day. Chance of showers. Cold fronts approaching. Acted like it was the first time that day we'd noticed the weather. I'd sit on the couch, hands in my lap or fiddling with cushions. When I was younger, I brought the papers. Sometimes I fetched the papers. Sometimes I asked if Tess was going to mass. Manufactured errands to get me out from under Nana's feet. Biscuits, Ribena, leftover Christmas cake. Rides on Tadie, the white pony. I trailed her as she milked the cows or cleaned the sheds. She crooned while she milked, a crab apple voice. Sometimes she sent me down to the field to Theresa or Paddy to deliver a message, news, or a bottle of tea. Manufactured errands to get me out from under Tess's feet. She asked about school, my mother, and news from America. Later, she asked about my kids' school, my mother, and news from my America. At some point she stopped telling me I was getting big.
At some point I stopped getting big.
Looking for her now, over the ocean and down the hill, I see her pale skin pulled taut over high cheekbones, raven hair pulled back in a net. A little red in the cheeks. Always a wink or private joke in her eyes. Snow White the farmer. Hardy, reedy, able.
I never saw pictures of her as a kid. I knew nothing about her childhood, her favorite anything, or how she met Paddy. I never asked. Just like I never asked the hens or the trees or the sky.
I just came down to say hello.
I wish I could have said goodbye before she left Greygrove last week.