My dearest Zadie,
Today you are 8 years old! Imagine that! When your Aunt Talia asked what you were most excited about turning 8, you said, “I get to fly all by myself to visit you and Pop-pop and Mima!” Yep! We’re pretty darn excited about that too!
And what a remarkable young person you are becoming! I have loved you from the moment I first heard you were on the way, but let’s face it—you were a feisty, strong-willed, pushing-the-envelope kids with lots of time-outs!! When you weren’t even three, we took you to a Farmer’s Market and you leaned against a tent-pole and wouldn’t listen to me when I told you it could collapse and to get away. And then the stall-owner himself said the same and you still didn’t move. I grabbed you and pulled you away and took you to the car and said, “Zadie! I’m so disappointed in you.” And your little self shot back, “Well, I’m disappointed in you!” Ha ha!
But I can’t remember the last time you got a time-out and you’ve taken that big ball of energy and aimed it for the right things— figuring out how to master the many skills we need in this world. You are now reading far beyond your grade level, can run like the wind, have a good mind for numbers, can ride a bike and swim and jump rope and shoot baskets, can draw well and expressively, can entertain yourself for a long time just following your imagination, are fun for your friends and grown-ups to be around, are a serious student in school who listens to the teacher and gets good work done. You’ve learned a few little pieces on the piano and oh, how I wish you could be in a play! On top of it all, you keep having these shining moments of empathy and compassion and kindness, which might count for more than all of the above together. You’re a good older sister to Malik and simply the most wonderful granddaughter I could ever hope to have! Everything about you makes me happy—except for living so far away so that I can’t see you each and every day!
When you were born eight years ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal. Here’s what I wrote to you back then:
Oh, Zadie, you are only one-day old, but you’re already changing my life. I’m sitting in a Fado club in the Barrio Alto of Lisbon and thinking that I’m going to take you here someday. When you’re 12 or 15 or some such age, we’ll go to Europe and take the cable car up the Lisbon hills and go to Club Luso. We’ll sit at our table, enraptured by the beautiful sounds of the three guitars and the sensuous singers whose words we might not catch, but whose meaning is clear: “This life is full of beauty and wonder and sounds, dances, songs that grew in Portuguese soil, but can touch anyone’s heart.” Maybe they’ll invite me up on stage again as they did tonight holding a wreathed arch and I’ll do tricky little dance steps that will surprise the musicians and impress the tourists and maybe you’ll be proud of your old Grandpa and not roll your eyes the way my children were required to do. We’ll take a cab back and chat with the amiable and knowledgeable taxi driver who will tell us, as mine did tonight, how the ukelele came from Madeira to Hawaii and how Music, Mathematics and Metaphysics are the three most important things in life. Then we’ll walk into the Hotel Opera, where two men will be singing arias in the lobby and you’ll think, “This is definitely not the Ramada Inn!”
The next day, we’ll walk along the river looking at the bridge so much like the Golden Gate Bridge and if the future unfolds as I would like it to, I’ll show you where the monument to Columbus used to be until people finally decided to not pay homage to such a cruel man or celebrate such a greedy bid for power and money that caused so much harm. Perhaps we’ll go to the coast and I’ll tell you the story of how your great-Aunt Ginny and great-Uncle Jim slept on a beach in a sheltered cove in their newlywed European year abroad and then were awakened with water lapping at their sleeping bags, realizing just in the nick of time that the tide was coming in and narrowly escaping.
Or we’ll head north to Galicia and I’ll show you the park where Grandma Karen, Aunt Talia, your Mom and I had a perfect picnic lunch on our journey through Spain, close to the spot where I abruptly stopped our rented car and jumped out to see the Galician bagpipers and then show them my Bulgarian one. Who knows? Maybe by the time we take our trip, I’ll have actually learned how to play that thing decently.
You see what you have done? Given me something new to dream about and made me giddy with anticipation of sharing with you all the things I love in this world. The trip to the Cherry Bowl Theater in Michigan will have new meaning with you in the back seat ready for your first Drive-In Movie. I can’t wait to take you on my favorite bike ride in Salzburg or ride the Staten Island Ferry after visiting my old home in New Jersey or go see the elephants at the Pooram Festival in Kerala, the place your mother was named for.
I’m reserving tickets at the Castro Theater for the Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, anxious to show you the Calaveras Big Trees where we all used to camp with 60 SF School kids, ready to take you to the chicken place in Madrid after a day in the Prado. Oh, the places we’ll go and the sights that we’ll see!
So little Zadie, hope your first day was a happy and healthy one. Drink your milk, get plenty of sleep and grow up to be big and strong and ready to travel with your Grandparents. Maybe if your Mom and Dad are nice to us, we’ll let them come along too.
Well, so far we’ve only traveled together to Hawaii and soon to Palm Springs, but I’m ready for you to get your passport and see the world together. Happy birthday to my dearest Zadie from her Pop-pop who loves her to the ends of the earth!