my grandmothers tree

Dear Ngozi,

Reveal Robert “Bad Bob” Zimmermann’s eight French-Canadian middle names… Jacques and Laurent are almost definitely in there since they are established family names… But what about the rest?

The man is almost 60, you can’t convince me he didn’t end up with a whack of middle names when he was born. He was born pre-Quiet Revolution. There’s gotta be a René or Jean tucked in there somewhere. Probably an Alphonse or Pierre. Maybe an Émile or Claude?

Just… Give me Bad Bob’s absurdly long birth certificate.


My grandmother turned ninety-four on Friday. She used to be five-foot-ten, the type of person who, when she entered a room, changed its chemistry. She’s shorter now. She’s shrunk six or seven inches, maybe more. We don’t age like trees.

The broad board that makes this table comes from the attic of my grandmother’s house. It’s over two feet wide. The tree it came from was likely two-hundred years old when it was felled to make the house, which itself is over a hundred-and-fifty years. It’s only today that I realized that of course the wood predates the house, that the board that’s now a table and sitting in my living room could be three-hundred years old or more. 

The house from where it comes doesn’t belong to my grandmother anymore, because it was sold this fall by my family to the rich man nextdoor. The architect in charge of the rich man’s renovations agreed to have some of those attic boards set aside for me. This is the first table, one of two I’m making for my brothers. The texture remains, the scars, the saw lines, the contours from where it was cut from the attic wall.

I don’t like to picture what that room looks like now. Insulated, plastered, track lit, all that wide old wood pulled down, discarded, covered up, smell of dust and pine and mystery and dry age and ghosts and years replaced with the smell of wet paper and fresh paint.

My grandmother’s poorly now, a relapse of pneumonia, and refusing antibiotics. “How’re you doing?” my uncle asked her. “I’m ready to go,” she said. “After all, I’m a hundred and ten years old.”