Lina Colucci

On the Old

A curious trait of the old: they are terser about death. Perhaps living closer and closer to it each day dulls one’s innate sense of holding on to life. To me, death is a topic of contemplation. It brings a recollection of a strange conversation had many years ago on a particular afternoon, the type of conversation that is begun naively by a young child who will not realize the full weight of the matter until years later upon reflection.
The memory paints a picture of a stone-paved street with cars flanked along its length. The street has that certain indefinable element that tells me it is in Brazil. There is a young me alongside my grandma, making our way through the street at my grandma’s characteristic slow step. She is perhaps one of the best known women in the town, not that the town is particularly big to begin with. When I was younger I loved walking down the street with her. Having moved to ten different places by the time I was ten, I loved the feeling of saying “hi” to everyone on the street.
“Would you rather be buried or cremated?” I asked her, while we walked.

“I would rather be cremated,” she said simply.


“Well why would I want to be buried? To take up land space on this crowded earth? To be a burden for my living relatives? Hah! Not me! I would rather be cremated.”
At the time, I said nothing more and silently admired this noble and selfless response. Now however, remembering the answer I found so noble and unselfish years ago, I realize it is not so noble but hides insecurity and fear.
My grandmother is a strong woman. She stands five foot six on a good day. She is the type of woman that believes she is right even when she knows she isn’t. Her hair fluctuates weekly between ash brown and dark auburn. She believes there is no point in doing things unless they are done her way. Everyday at three o’clock she walks down the street to the bakery. Everyday, she buys two loaves of French bread. Everyday, she returns home and eats one of the loaves with her cup of coffee. The other loaf she saves for the birds. In her resoluteness, she has turned cold. In her strong willingness, she has become a burden to those around her; a grandfather clock of the 20th century strapped to the wrist of a 21st century businessman. She lives alone in a house built for five and scared she must be.
One of the biggest difficulties I had as a young child going to spend the summer at my grandma’s house was adjusting to her ways. I came from a house where showing affection was a daily exercise to one where it seemed to be looked down upon. My grandmother would do everything for me; cook my favorite foods, buy me clothes for the year, and take me to my favorite places. Yet I still missed the type of caring affection I was used to at home. When I was younger, I would sometimes sit in her lap, feeling her freeze beneath me for a second before patting me awkwardly on the back. As I grew up, I learned not to sit there anymore.
My grandma lives in Casa Branca – population: 800 (or so it seems) – lapse time for technology to get there: about four years – lapse time for my grandma to understand new technology: about thirty years. She has still to move beyond the oven, the television, and the phone. She does have microwave, one that she leaves unplugged most of the time for fear “some electrical wave will shoot through the outlet and break the microwave.” Until last summer she had a phone with a round dial – it was too complicated to get a new one. Whenever I invite her to look at something on my computer, she refuses as if I had just offered her a painful death wish, “Not me! What if I press a wrong button and ruin the whole contraption? Deus me livre!
The only clock in my grandma’s house is in the dining room – a loud ticking wall clock. It runs thirteen minutes slow and it seems she has stayed behind it. My grandmother is like a car at twenty-five miles per hour on a high-speed highway. She looks around the world and sees nothing she can relate to, she looks at her phone book and sees no names she can call to complain about the new-fangled contraptions of the world.
It is time or is it attitude? As young people look upon the old they fear death but perhaps they fear those years prior to death more – to become embittered, to lose all patience, to wear black socks and white sneakers out in public. Are these things inevitable? Is it impossible to change? Perhaps time is like air and youth is like copper, the laws of physics mandate the air to change the copper’s shininess into green rust. Is it not the copper’s greatest fear to lose its bouncy shine? Is it not the rust’s greatest fear to be scraped away and replaced by new copper?
It is now nine o’clock in Brazil. My grandma is reorganizing her fridge and unplugging the microwave, preparing to go to bed. She will soon step in the old shower that turns to ice within five minutes of turning it on – the plumber is a fool who will never be able to fix that, she says. That is my grandma. That is Licínia Amelia Pereira Avancini.

“Goodness gracious!”


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