This mailbox stands at attention on the side of a mountain in Vauclin, Martinique. It guards my matriarchal grandmother, Mami Medelice, however I feel that it also watches over the other parts of my family who call the island home. I took this picture after having dropped off Mami Medelice in a taxi that was to take her to the pharmacy. When I turned to walk back up the long driveway I noticed just how beautiful this mailbox was. Since Mami Medelice had insisted I take a picture of her walking into the Taxi, to send to my mother, I already had my phone out. I simply had to raise my hand to capture the scene in front of me. As I studied the photo, on my way back up the driveway, I thought about all the names on the mailbox.
The first two names are the people that built the foundation for this part of the family, my grandparents. My grandfather made this mailbox with his bare hands. They had eight children, half girls the other half boys, and they cemented into them everyday that laughter is the only way to make it through life without letting the hardships control them. These children then passed that laughter on to their own offspring. My mother would remind me of this whenever I took life too seriously. She’d say, “My parents taught us that if you don’t laugh in this life, you’ll always be crying. So Angela, don’t worry. Be happy.” Then she would walk away singing to herself amused at her own saying.
As the months passed after my vacation had ended, I went about my life not thinking about the picture at all. I was working, and school had started, leaving any thoughts outside of these two things nearly impossible. The mailbox picture cannonballed back into my mind at a time when I was desperately looking for a way to connect my familial background and myself. My patriarchal grandmother, Mami Anita, had just died, and I became obsessed with feeling closer to a part of my family that I only see every six or seven years.
The last time I visited her at her house in the capital of Martinique, Mami Anita was barely lucid. There was a family-wide denial of my grandmother’s worsening condition. She had been showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, or another form of memory deterioration, but the family refused to believe it and since Dr. Thomas (who has been our physician for generations) didn’t want to break their hearts. Before I came to visit I had been hearing about my grandmother’s weird acts from a distance and found it more than probable that she had memory issues. But the denial of the family in Martinique was so deep rooted that when she completely stopped eating, they believed that they could pray her back to full health instead of preparing for the inevitable.
When I visited the island the December before her death, my aunt had finally convinced Mami Anita to leave her bed and come down to sit in the living room. She was sitting in her special chair, and I was sitting on the couch reading. I was determined to get through the whole Harry Potter series during my last two weeks on the island. Mami had been staring at me for a long time, but I figured she was zoned out. Eventually she looked at me and said, “My girl, aren’t you hot with all that hair on your head?” The question caught me off guard, but I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Non Mami, I’m not. I put it up in a ponytail when it gets too hot. See?” I replied, putting my hair in a ponytail to show her.
“Oh,” she said, “Whose child are you again?”
“I’m your son Joachim’s daughter.” I said my smile fading.
It was the first of many little conversations about my hair, the heat, and whose child I was. We never had any long conversations. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her if she remembered me as a child running up and down the stairs. If she remembered fighting with me to finish my food. Or even if she remembered me sitting at her feet playing with my Lego set as she was watching her shows. I knew the answer and I didn’t think I wanted to hear it vocalized. Those weren’t things I wanted to think about in the limited amount of time that I had with her. I knew then that this would probably be the last time that I would see her alive.
When it was time for me to head back to Mami Medelice’s (my other grandmother’s) house I hugged Mami Anita with as much love as I could muster. The ride back up the mountain was filled with quiet tears and loud memories. I knew I would, most likely, never see her again and I was having a very hard time coping with this very real possibility. We arrived at Mami Medelice’s house just in time for lunch, but afterwards I found myself sitting on a rock directly in front of the mailbox looking at its armor and paying attention to the surroundings of its post. I listened to the breeze as it pushed its way through the flowers and the leaves around it. I was able to clear my mind and focus on the happiness that it seemed to filter in. I observed the pink tint that lined most of the plants around the edges of their leaves. A purple plant seemed like it was painted, but in reality, it wasn’t. I began to remember again, but this time I was able with a smile. I remembered how much Mami Anita loved her grandchildren. I remembered that she had lived her ninety-four years filled with family that loved her. I let the mailbox take the sad thoughts and memories that I had been carrying and in its place a sense of acceptance was uncovered. Sitting in front of that mailbox that represented one grandmother and her family, I took my first step in coping with my other grandmother’s illness.
A few months later I was informed that Mami Anita had completely stopped eating. Prior to that she had been on an all liquid diet, but she later she seemed to not only be unable to swallow but unwilling to as well. The family prayed for a full recovery, but I, on the other hand, knew that she was ready to go, and no one was going to stop her. Within a month Mami Anita was gone. After hearing the news of her passing, my mind wandered back to the mailbox.
I remember how when I had been sitting by the mailbox and it had begun to get dark, I decided to make my way inside. As I passed the mailbox on my way up the driveway, I stripped off any negative feelings or issues that I was carrying. I entered a place where positivity and laughter took precedence. As I walked further away from the mailbox, I imagined my grandfather wielding the steel beam onto the bottom of the box whistling as he worked, making a guardian to watch over his future family. The pride that he must have had as he first showed my Mami Medelice the progress he had made on the house, including the mailbox that they could finally call their own.
Mami Medelice was at the end of the driveway, waiting for me to come to dinner. She had a smile on her lips and was lightly teasing me for taking so long to come back inside, “I thought you were never coming back. Go sit down at the table. Dinner is waiting for you.” We ate in a comfortable silence knowing that our mailbox protector was out front, turning away any negativity. After dinner I began to walk into my room, but Mami Medelice stopped me and said, “I’m happy you found your way back to the house. I thought I would have had to send someone out to find you.” After a moment I responded, “Don’t worry Mami. I’ll always find my way back to family.”
This old mailbox has been around for generations. And although the plants have grown around it, it still holds its post at the side of that mountains, allowing new names to be added to it, standing at attention, watching and waiting for us each to come back. It holds the memories that I would never want to forget. Its continuous presence has allowed me to re-associate the difficult last days of my other grandmother’s death with positive memories of the time I spent with her. This simple mailbox with the names of so many of my loved ones is my connection to a world that seems so far away. It is the connection to my only living grandparent, and I am not yet ready to give that up. As the new generation of the family is arriving, the only thing I can think to tell them is to remember that you always have a place to come home to. The Mailbox is our home.
About the Author,
Angela Joseph-Pauline, who responds quicker to Angie, is a French-American writer who attempts to paint her world as pink as she possibly can. She can usually be found with a laugh on her lips and a dance on her hips at some family function or another. She is currently attempting to finish her degree, and hopes to be the wall decoration and not the deodorant, in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Years from now you’ll most likely find her as the next Cake Boss.