I was told that it was surely the end, and so I took my daughter to visit my grandmother. By the time I flew to South Carolina and drove to the country house in the middle of swamps in Goose Creek, I found Granny, sitting on the couch and watching Paul and Jan on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
She could no longer talk or eat. She had fallen, her arm was in a sling and she had a couple of broken ribs. But it was amazing how much direction she could give with her eyes. Without a sound, I knew immediately when she did not want my daughter to be playing with a ball inside of the house or when she needed some water, and I would jump to attention whenever she looked at me.
She was an amazing woman. She grew up in the South during the Depression, my grandfather repaired jukeboxes, so they never had much money and it seemed like she built a family and a home with her sheer determination.
When I was a little girl, I remember her wearing sweat pants and canvas shoes. With strong hands she chopped her own firewood, wielding that axe with great fortitude. She carried the wood up the stairs, set up a fireplace, and served me hot chocolate with little chalky marshmallows.
She always whistled and never seemed to stop cleaning, or cooking, or fussing. She would only pause to move her toothpick around a little bit or to put on some lotion. Granny always smelled like Jergens; she would rub it on her neck and hands, and then she would still have too much left over, so she would call me over and take my little fingers and lather the excess into them.
I always admired her and was proud that I was part of her lineage. I hoped that maybe some of my character contained a bit of that tough resolve. She died last year, and as I treasure her this All Saint’s Day, I remember Howard Thurman’s prayer:
“Great God! How vast must be Thy Faith
To risk so much in such a tiny frame.”
I think of my grandmother, the undeniable matriarch of our family, and I know what a small frame can do. In her marvelous life, she taught us and scolded us, cooked for us and cleaned for us.
The last time I visited, when we were left alone, I took my grandmother’s hand. I held it, and it seemed smaller than it used to.
I remembered when she took me to the beach: those are my best thoughts of my grandmother. One time when I was young, she held my hand over the boardwalk because I could see between the cracks and I was afraid of the waves roaring so far below us.
Another time when she was old, we went to the beach alone together. We held hands then, too. That time I needed to steady her on the rough boards. Both are vivid memories because there was nothing to cook at the beach and there was nothing to straighten up, so I had all of her attention and I greedily talked to her. I asked her all kinds of questions. â€¨
On the couch, in South Carolina, when we were alone, I grabbed her hand again, and I looked at those intricate veins that were pulsing through it. I held on tight, but at the same time I tried to let her go. I mean, it was just in my mind, but I kept thinking, “It’s okay, Granny. You can go now. I love you, but I think I can do it without you now.”
I made the trip just so that I could do that. I don’t know why, but I needed to make sure that I could say goodbye. I guess that I loved her so much that I didn’t want to be holding on too tight, keeping her.
She has been gone for over a year now. I grieve that I cannot put flowers on her grave as my in-laws do in Nebraska, or paint her tombstone white like people do in Louisiana. But at least I have this treasured time to stop and pray.
photo’s by cocteautwin2000