She raised herself slowly, timid, without a voice. Others spoke. She listened, thought long about the things they said. About the things he said. If he ever addressed her directly, she lowered her eyes, deferential and in awe of a father larger than life. She followed in the orbiting footsteps of mother, sisters - worshippers of this proud Apollo of the South.
The Navy gave her a voice in 1942. Women would decode submarine messages and she would be among the first - an ensign in the inaugural class of WAVES. She spoke with clever fingers, penciling and erasing, her own system for making sense of the undersea ciphers. After the war, she turned her skills to railroad signaling. She waved paper warnings for passing engineers. One train per track. One flag per train. The system as true as its operator. No mistakes, no margin for error.
Three sons, twelve grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren.
At 85, she could still walk to the corner of Olivia and Eisenhower for the New York Times. At her kitchen table, she penned the codes. One across. Twelve down. A type of seabird. An eight-letter word for growing old.
Now, nearing 100, she holds the paper on her lap, its puzzles undecipherable. She has outlived her husband, friends, a grandchild. She sits on her front porch all day, dreaming, red wine in a coffee cup, her faded blue eyes liquid in the breeze. Waiting. Maybe her son will visit today. Maybe he won't be impatient when she asks the same question again. When she can't decode his meaning.
Days skitter by on shaded porches. Memories are hummingbirds, hovering just out of view.
The past, elusive as jasmine, scatters its petals in the wind.