My grandmother spoiled me rotten. It turned out it was a very good thing, as we got to enjoy each other’s company for only ten years before she was overcome by a sudden stroke, one evening, and she went swiftly and painlessly. In her bedroom, at the end of a long corridor that, in my imagination, has reached the same proportions as the one in “The Shining”, she had an oversized wooden carved crucifix that I was convinced would come alive at night.
A couple of years after her death, her large bedroom became mine, and my mother decorated it in bright orange and cream – the crucifix was put in storage but, for many moons, I couldn’t help look up at the wall were it had hung and wonder if Jesus was walking around the basement at the very same moment I was ready to go to sleep.
My grandmother had a favourite vacation place, on the Apennines not far from Bologna, a medieval village by the name of Castelluccio. Not related, and not as famous, as the homonymous Castelluccio di Norcia, this particular location whose name means “little castle”, was renowned for the one and only restaurant in town and for a small castle in the vicinities. While the heat of the Summer would have the city sweltering, my grandmother would whisk me away to this small oasis, where we would share a room in the only hotel overlooking the main square, and where I don’t quite recall how we spent our days. My grandmother was a tall, regal looking woman, with kilometric legs and a large bosom, and a blond chignon at the base of her neck. She walked erect and proud, giving orders to all and sundries but she would melt when it came to me, her only granddaughter.
I have vague memories of dinner in the hotel restaurant with my grandma conversing with other older women but I distinctly remember the parish priest, a rotund man with false teeth whom I hated to go visit, lest he came too close and flashed his chops at me or, worse, showered me with his spit every time he spoke.
Tucked away on one side of the square was a small stone fountain, where I loved drinking cool water from. My memories seem to stop at these details, until last night, when I forced my body into an inversion during a yoga class, for the millionth time and, for the millionth time hating, the feeling of being upside down.t
Together with the memories of the stone fountain and the priest’s teeth, I suddenly remembered a roll of Charms candy. I used to love them – they were hard and square, multi-colored and stacked one on top of the other in a colorful wrap, half the excitement of eating them being not knowing what flavor would come next. I saw myself in the hotel room, sucking on one such candy and, suddenly, having it stuck in my 5-year-old throat. Did I go purple? Did I start wheezing? Whatever happened, it alerted my grandmother to what was happening. Probably unaware of the Heimlich maneuver, she resourcefully picked me up by the ankles, inverted me upside down and shook me as a rag doll until the candy popped out.
My life was saved but a lifelong aversion to inversions, cartwheels, somersaults and the like persists to this day. Who knew it would have taken 16 years of yoga to spark a memory?