K for Katherine. The picture is one of my grandmothers, Katherine White Burling. My mother drew this from a photograph with conte crayon. I am named after this grandmother. This is a big drawing, more than life size, 18 by 24. I photographed it through glass, avoiding most reflections. My grandmother is wearing a cameo. We have a photograph of her grandmother wearing it as well. I do not know exactly when Helen Burling Ottaway drew this, early to mid 1990s, I think. The story is fiction but my grandmother could be quite wicked, so she inspired this. After all, Katherine means “purity”.
Don’t get the Willies
“Caitlyn.” says grandmother. “You are 13 now.”
Caitlyn sighs internally. Another lecture about becoming an adult? This is the unpredictable grandmother, sharp as a knife. She will never behave like the book grandmothers. Though some of her friends say that their grandmothers don’t behave either.
“Where is your phone?” says grandmother.
“I left it in my coat.” says Caitlyn.
“I think you should take off your shades, too,” says grandmother gently. “Tea?”
Caitlyn reluctantly removes her internet connected sunglasses. Pale pink, but this grandmother isn’t fooled. Was it her eye motions that gave her away?
“Yes, please,” says Caitlyn politely. Her grandmother has an elegant tea service out and heats water by boiling it. Completely archaic. Maybe this is about net overuse.
“Are you observing males or females or both?” says grandmother.
Rats, thinks Caitlyn. Sex after all. She prims her mouth.
“I want to talk to you about the willies.” says grandmother.
“Being scared?” says Caitlyn. Good, not about sex.
“There is another meaning.” says grandmother pleasantly. “You will encounter certain men when you are old enough to date. I encourage you to study the boys for now, but you are more mature than they are. That is less true with the girls.”
“Hmmm,” says Caitlyn. She is studying her teacup, eyes down.
“Certain men will try very hard to control you. They will make promises that are silly and statements that are lies.”
“Ok,” says Caitlyn. Next comes the embarrassing part.
“You will recognize them in part because there are places they will not go and people they will not speak to. They are very very rigid.”
“As they get older, their territory will shrink further and further. They become more and more isolated. You do not want involvement with one of these, for two reasons. One is that they will try to isolate you.”
Caitlyn smirks. As if.
“The other: well, you know the story of Pinocchio?”
Caitlyn blinks. “Uh, yes.”
“In the story it is the doll’s nose that grows. In people the nose can grow, but it is really other parts that shrink.” says grandmother. “So it is important not to get the willies.”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Caitlyn. And they both sip their tea.
My daughter is a k-k-k-Katie, tho her birth certificate says Katherine. She’s now mom to my 13-year-old grand-girl with whom I enjoy chats over Starbucks or sushi. Haven’t gotten any eye-rolling or snark, yet. I like to believe we’re friends.