Grandma's Attic

Grandma's Attic

A Story by Michael Coleman

An account of how my grandmother and I bond through her autobiographical poetry.


My family and I traveled up to Ashland, Ohio last month to spend time with my grandmother. Next week, she will undergo surgery to remove cancerous tumors identified by a CT scan. We are hopeful for her speedy recovery.

I have always loved visiting her. As children, my sister and I would climb into her attic and explore whenever we came for a visit. As a adults, we still do. The stairs creak as you imagine an attic staircase would. The lighting is dim. Instead of doors there are wood-paneled curtains that you have to draw back, like vertical bamboo mats, in order to enter the various sectionals. Each room contains forgotten items sorted in no particular order: golf bags, a cycling machine, my grandfather’s old army jacket, boxes stuffed with receipts, picture frames, and indiscernible trinkets.

We’d spend hours up there rummaging through it all. I was mindful to return everything as I had found it. Irrationally, I feared if I hadn’t, the historical periods to which the items belonged would somehow be altered. So, I kept everything in its place, spatially and temporally.

A daybed and chest of drawers are tucked in the back of the attic in a room with no door. I often wondered if anyone had ever lived up there. I hoped not because the air was thick and musky and you couldn’t help but feel strange pangs of loneliness while standing there, yet simultaneously, pleasant wafts of nostalgia. It was as though you had been transported back to a distant time in your life, one full of mirth and memory, but no one was there to join you.

A couple of years ago, Grandma began sharing her poetry with me. She recites each poem from memory. She completed her first recitation in grade school before her classmates - all eight of them. They attended a one room schoolhouse in the countryside of Bethany, Kentucky. Even at 88, Grandma can still recite this poem impeccably, and has to me once or twice before. It’s at least 30 lines long. Her sharp memory remains today and her oral storytelling resonates with me more now than I ever could have imagined. When she recites one of her poems, her eyes focus straight ahead, though never directly at me, and her glasses glimmer from the vivid light of a nearby lamp. The arbitrary rhyme and meter of her poetry connects us in a way that conversational prose seemingly cannot. I never used to appreciate poetry. Now, I do.

During my last visit, she recited a poem that she wrote about her husband, my grandfather, who passed away 20 years ago from Alzheimer’s. I was just 3 years old when he died and I have no recollection of time spent with him. Sadly, I do remember crawling inside the base of our TV stand at that same age, tossing the carefully organized books it contained out onto the living room floor. I feel guilty for remembering something so trivial, and while I know this feeling is misplaced, I’m oddly comforted in knowing that at least I have a vestige emotion for someone I would have loved.

Grandma took care of him for several years before he passed. She bathed, dressed, and fed him every day. Even when his temper caused him to yell at the loved ones he could no longer recognize, she stood with him, ever nurturing as she is, and reminded him how much she loved him.

Her poem closed with a memory she had of putting him to bed one night. His Alzheimer’s was advanced and he could barely communicate any longer. She tucked him into the warm sheets and hugged him close to her as she spoke, likely with tears streaming slowly down her cheeks, about how she always had and always would care for him. Then, unexpectedly, he squeezed her arms, hugging her in the only way he physically could. Although the disease had robbed him almost entirely of his consciousness, at that instance, he was able to communicate that he understood her. His wife. His love.

After finishing the poem, Grandma took a second or two to pause before she smiled, and with the most subtle and ephemeral laugh, gleamed, “that was the most awesome moment of my life.” She turned toward me as the light still danced upon her glasses, and I thought of the bedroom in the back of her attic. As much as I possibly could have, I understood where she was at that very moment.

© 2014 Michael Coleman

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Michael, what beautiful writing, so heartfelt and sincere. Thanks for sharing your story.

Posted 5 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Michael Coleman

5 Years Ago

Thank you for the kind words, Tess!

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1 Review
Added on January 22, 2014
Last Updated on January 22, 2014
Tags: autobiography, poetry, family, loss, connection, memory


Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman

Chicago, IL

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A Story by Michael Coleman