Sunday, May 29, 2005


“I don’t know you, but I know you,” my grandmother said to me. Her hand rested on my forearm as I crouched next to the chair she was sitting in. We were at my mother’s house in Sydney, Australia. My Grandma had Alzheimer’s. She died a few months after that day in August 2000. I think it was the last time I saw her alive.

Old Woman in Red Chair,Bronx, NY
© Beth Neville 1966

Grandma sunk into the lounge chair (and it was not particularly overstuffed – it was more on the petite side), and her feet rested on a padded footstool because they could not reach the floor. She was always a tiny woman, 4 foot 11 inches at full height, but she seemed like she was only 4 ½ feet (tops) by the time she was 90 years old. I am not tall, 5 foot 3 inches, but I towered over her.

My mother has been visiting us for a week or so. She made the 24-hour flight from Sydney to the East Coast of the United States for the third time this year – brutal. She moved back to Sydney when I was 19 years old (15 years ago). She was born and raised there – and I am a dual citizen, an Australerican or Ameralian. I have a thoroughly American accent, though I have a few Australian cultural inheritances.

Iz had not seen his Grandma in four months, and she worried, “He won’t know me.” She does live so far away. But she has such a presence. He would not draw a blank when he saw her again.

He did smile when he saw her – and he usually holds back before smiling at any random stranger. And he was reaching for her within the hour (which he does with very few, if any, non-parental or canine affiliates). And Iz now always (I don’t exaggerate) smiles at Grandma – he knows her without a doubt.

I am sure he knew her the moment she walked up at the airport, like my grandmother knew me: “I don’t know you, but I know you.”