Illustrations by Rozalina Burkova. Photos courtesy of Laura Bassett.
So many of us are weathering this pandemic while separated from loved ones. We’ve heard much about the joys and pitfalls of keeping in touch via phone calls and video chats, but we wanted to hear from a woman communicating with a beloved relative largely using the written word. Enter Laura Bassett and her grandmother, Virginia Smith. Bassett lives in New York; Smith lives in Louisiana. See snapshots of their lives — and letters — below.
First, a word of explanation. My grandmother is wild and funny and eccentric. She lives in a retirement home outside of New Orleans, she’s 94 and nearly deaf and blind, and she only ever really communicates with me via poems. I have a whole drawer of them in my house — she sends me a new one on every occasion, and sometimes randomly, and then I write her poems back.
She isn’t so much into the structure or form of them as the rhymes. She wakes up in the middle of the night thinking of rhyming words and then gets excited and writes them down in giant handwriting and incorporates them into her letters. She calls me Beezey because I used to sign my thank-you notes to her “Laura B,” as if she had another granddaughter named Laura, which she doesn’t.
With you in New York, I try not to worry,
but sad to say it’s in my DNA
I take comfort in knowing your smarts are showing
You stay in your place and don’t touch your face
If you go out for a task, you wear your mask
You wash your hands and keep away from your friends
With your luck of the Irish, you know how to write
It helps you stay connected so you won’t get infected
You always had a way with the written word,
While mine would be mocked by a mockingbird
I live in a cloister, like an unopened oyster
But this bubble keeps us safe from the New Orleans cluster
Your mom calls every day to see if I’m okay
She’ll read me your latest post. That’s what I like the most
Now it’s time for my toddy! It’s good for the body
I’ll sip my Tito’s and munch on my Fritos
To think I’m almost 95, and by the grace of God I’m still alive!
When we’re free of this bug,
We’ll all meet in person with a humongous hug.
I love you Beezey, with all my heart.
You survived the Great Depression and the Second World War
Then Hurricane Katrina came and blew off your door
For a week we had little idea of your fate
Since you’d stubbornly refused to evacuate
But somehow you pulled yourself back from the brink
And turned up alive, just needing a drink.
You’re the youngest 94-year-old I’ve ever met
And your party schedule inspires me yet
But I need you, on this one crisis, to please behave
And stay another 20 years out of the grave
You have so many stories I still need to hear
And every single day I wish you were near
But we still have our poems, and please keep them coming
Your mind is still sharp and your body still humming
When all this is over I’ll fly back down South
To laugh at the things that come out of your mouth
I’ll pour you a toddy and may have one, too,
And I’ll tell you in person how much I love you.