On Mother’s Day 2007 I helped Grammy into the front seat of the behemoth Oldsmobile and before I shut the door she grabbed my hand. She squeezed it tightly for a hand that was so soft and so wrinkled and she looked deep into the corners of my heart before telling me I was a good girl. Then she told me a few more times. I understood she was telling me because she knew she was getting further away from us even though we would have her in this life for almost 8 more years. We exchanged her favorite loving words before I finally, gently, closed the heavy door, “A bushel and a peck — and a hug around the neck.”
She grew more confused and foggy and impaired hearing made it harder to decipher if she KNEW us but for almost 8 more years she continued to be the best hand-holder in the history of the world. She was hard and steady and sometimes rigid but she was conversely soft and gentle and everything I needed in my life when I was a mess. I hope everyone has at least one of those people in their life. I hope everyone gets to be that person to someone else. Don’t force it. In either direction. If you are TRYING to be that person for someone it won’t work. I think it just happens. Or it doesn’t. And no one is worse for wear either way but some of us end up infinitely better when the pieces fit.
When I was 16 and the darkness started creeping in I called her. I told her I couldn’t remember who I was and I felt lost. She wasn’t equipped for those types of conversations but a few days later I got a letter in the mail and she used two pieces of blank white paper to remind me how much I was loved and tried to ground me with memories of the girl I’d always been. I still have the letter and it’s worn from trips around the world and wrinkled from tears and being roughly clutched. It is simple and lacks intense depth or flowery vocabulary but is what I’ve needed many times and I’m not embarrassed to say it may have saved my life once, a long, long time ago.
A year ago today she slipped from this life to embrace her many friends that beat her to Heaven. I got the email telling me, in lovingly typed words because I was in another country and several time zones away, that our Dear Grammy had gone to be with the Lord. I got the girls up and dressed them and we walked the streets of Sevilla hunting for the most beautiful Spring flowers we could find, because she would have done the same. In the courtyard of a beautiful palace a bougainvillea blossom floated through the air. It danced up, down, twirled in slow motion and moved slowly towards us. The girls and I were captivated. Tears ran down my cheeks as it got closer to us and then, as if set gently down, it landed on my heart. Both girls started to cry and Brynnlee whispered, “Grammy.” And I’m sure it was.
Last Sunday we gathered to remember the man she loved. He was good and he was kind and he called me out at all the right times for going utterly and completely off the tracks of life. He knew what it looked like because at times he, too, had derailed. He taught me to visit lonely people and to write to people I love and to never take people for granted. He smiled so big the last time I was with him as he handed my girls cookies and told them to enjoy their refreshments. He sat on the edge of the bed he had shared with Grammy, catching his breath while I helped him sort through her makeup and pantyhose and slips when she had no need for them anymore here in this life. He wore red pants to Christmas Eve services and into my late 20’s still gave me a dollar to drop into the offering plate at church. He was gruff and commanded a room without a word but his kisses smacked on the side of my face or wet on my lips…oh the memory of them still makes me smile and cry at the same time.
The morning after he died I called his apartment before my parents could get there. I just needed to listen to his voice on the answering machine. Tears streamed down my face so I hung up and dialed again. And then again. I tried to do it one more time in the midst of this paragraph only this time knowing the apartment sits empty and there is no answering machine to pick up. It rang and rang and just kept ringing. I learned that phone number when I was 9. It is the only thing in my entire life that has remained constant and unchanged, until now. Even when they left the home I grew up visiting and moved into a retirement center they transferred their phone number. 703-683-2442. I’ve dialed it with small, chubby fingers, with shaky, sad fingers, with excited, newly engaged fingers and with busy, mommy fingers and now I will not ever call it again. And isn’t it silly to cry over such a thing? I hope not.
What blessed me and continues to bless me was and is their love – as my cousin Joe reminded an auditorium full of people last Sunday — their STEADFAST love. Never changing. Never wavering. Love. And the fact that no matter how lost any of us where or how far away a mind could be, they still loved us, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. And how beautiful to be loved like that!