Gloversville

“We glove you,” a plaque above the high doorway on an abandoned building declares.  Downtown, almost every building is abandoned, with more empty storefronts than any place I’ve ever seen.  Gloversville was built on leather works, tanning, cutting, stitching, with gloves a central product, and that work has all gone overseas.  “‘Hell,’ people said,” says Richard, who has lived here all his life.  “‘We can send this work to South America where people will work for 17 cents an hour and we can dump all the toxic shit in the rivers.'”

Grandma Knowles lives in a high-rise behind downtown, full of elders like herself.  Her second story windows look out on an old brick building with “Zimmer’s Gloves” written in big faded letters across the side.   I walk around her apartment looking at all the family photos and she talks about her friends and her family and her sweet cat and how grateful she is for all she has, even though it’s been a hard life and she’s lost a child.  Laura, David’s late wife, was her daughter, and we’ve come to visit, to be with Grandma around the anniversary of Laura’s death.   We fill up the apartment, David and his children, Melia and Mackenzie, and Daisy, Mackenzie’s girlfriend, and me, meeting Grandma for the first time. 

David rented a mini-van so we could all ride together across New Hampshire, then Vermont, and into New York.  Rolling up and over mountains and hills, woods and pastures and short views and long vistas stretching out along the route, we are all assaulted by memories.   For David, Melia and Mackenzie, this was a familiar family trip.  For Daisy, we pass signs for the route to Peterborough, where her grandmother lived, Grandmother who died in June.  For me, the first third of the trip, to Brattleboro, is most of the route to Lisa’s house.  Lisa had been my best friend since I was 11 and we lost each other in the year after Eric died amid a confusing swirl of grief and inappropriate boundaries and an over reliance on the comfort of intoxication. 

We all carried our own pieces of emptiness, into this empty town, spilling out of the full mini-van at snack breaks, pee breaks, stretch our legs and stand up so it’s easier to hug breaks.  Grandma Knowles is full of love and kind words and sweet appreciation for the richness of her life.  We take her out to dinner, and the next morning to breakfast, Laura’s brother Richard joining us for both meals.  We pass the empty stores, most of them not even posted for rent.  Why bother. 

We drive up into the mountains in the rain to visit Laura’s grave.  I leave a rock on her gravestone and explain to Grandma it’s a Jewish custom.  “I like that,” she says.  And then when I hug her she pulls my face down next to hers and says into my ear, “Take care of David, because he needs taking care of you know.”

“I know,” I say.  “We all need taking care of.”

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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