To Lucille Ball (first letter)

Dear Lucy,
The character you played in “I Love Lucy” is caught up in memories of my grandmother. She died this past spring and now suddenly, after a long absence, you’re in my thoughts again. Her name was Gladys, which has always seemed as bizarrely genteel, 19th century, Southern and colonial as Lucille to me.
There’s something semi-rural about both, something suburban (but never quite urban), something working poor, something also 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, something about church basement dances and North American whiteness (and blackness). Then again, what’s in a name? There are so many disparate particulars and nebulous associations. What if this was all we had to acknowledge either of you?
I discovered that your grandparents raised you and your little brother. My grandmother took care of my little brother and I a lot. Her place was like a safe house. I remember eating dry fish sticks that tasted like freezer burn. Sometimes we’d get lucky and have canned ravioli. We’d be on the floor, our plates on the coffee table, watching you on her living room TV. Like the food, we didn’t really enjoy your show very much, but we loved being there. It would feel as though we didn’t have a care in the world. We’d try to stay for as long as possible.
She was frank and unashamed of her lack of education. She was the boss. She was very emotional and quick to anger. She was superstitious, hilarious and always very loving. When I was older I understood that she prided herself on being a very moral person. She wouldn’t privilege some people over others because of their wealth or status. She adored you despite your place in the world (or at least the person she imagined you to be). She thought of you as “good people”. I like to think your television role somehow affirmed for her how she was in the world despite her shortcomings. She used to say there was Irish in you. It turns out that there is, but not as much as she might of thought.
You dyed your hair red. I remember her adamantly denying this at a Christmas party when I was in grade four or five. Someone from down the hall was there and asked out loud to no one in particular: “How could she have married that filthy Spic!?”
She was very proud to be a descendant of coffin ship survivors. It’s estimated that half of the people on these boats died from starvation, exposure and disease during the Atlantic crossings. Eyewitness accounts recall schools of sharks following them for hundreds of miles, eating up the bodies that were regularly thrown overboard.
Jesus was with her, my grandmother believed, because He had let these distant relatives endure. He was with me too, she said. I’m pretty sure she thought He was with you too.
Of course, you were never anything like her, but it still seems so odd now to say so. You were a mogul who invented the sitcom. The Hollywood establishment recognized you as the “Queen of Comedy”. My grandmother would never have thought herself capable of drama school. The cost of it, with our family in mind, would surely have shamed her from trying. This is the hard thing. She believed in a sense of you that I eventually accepted as a part of her, but where, really, did this sense come from? Why did she need to claim you so badly?