Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ode to a Saint

I just paid for a new book after scanning the aisles of Borders with an eccentric salesman by my side. Eager to show me his new favorites, I smiled and nodded acting interested as I was cautious to seem neutral, not flirt back, just get the book I really wanted, which was the reason I was here. As I swiped my card I felt my phone vibrate in my purse, over and over like a frustrated being, cooped up in a space that was too tight.

"Hey," I said casually. "Hey baby girl, its your pa." He asked what I was doing but I sensed there was another motive in his careful tone. I said I picked up a wrap from Banana Republic for mom's birthday and excitedly told him what a find it was at 40% off. Thats wonderful he said, as he coughed out the next few lines. "Bran, I need to tell you something. I just talked to grandmom and your sweet nanny passed about an hour ago, baby girl."

All of the sudden I was very aware of my surroundings. I felt crowded and hot and my hurried gate slowed to a stagger, the weight of my shopping bags digging in my shoulders. The next 15 minutes I sat in the car hearing the few details that he knew, and when I hung up the phone I cried with no one to hold me.

The next weekend, they arrived at 5:30 ready to drive to Alabama where I would see my great-grandmother for the last time. I was situated next to my sister who slept most of the way, careful not to spill my coffee, knowing I would not finish the cup. I never do. As I drifted in and out of sleep, waking for bathroom breaks and to switch drivers all I could think about was her stories, her laugh, laying my head on her lap as she scratched my back and all of the slumber parties we shared when I lived for 5 months in DC.

She was 95 when she passed. My uncle said she was lying on her side, just as she always slept and as she whispered for the Lord to take her, He did. In her last moments, my grandmother and the Hospice nurses sang hymns loudly, ushering her into Heaven.

I wondered on that car ride why we bury loved ones. How we can help someone to their chair, or to and from the bathroom which such care, gently help them with every day chores and tasks and then in a moment place them in the earth. I didnt like it at all. But there was no other option really. I wrestled with this thought for hours. The woman I helped dress and gave pedicures, the woman I introduced to white mochas at the age of 94 and the one who I sat up with until 2 in the morning on hundreds of occasions sipping tea and dunking gingersnaps, the one who had lived through perhaps the most change this country will ever see, would now be dressed in her Sunday best, fingernails painted a bright pink and laid to rest. Just like that.

She used to tell me how she worked 14 hour days as a telephone operator, just to go home, fix dinner and iron my grandmother's clothes. Sometimes she fell asleep sitting up. My great-grandfather adored her, and as I sat next to her I used to study her face as she told her stories. I loved how I could not tell the color of her eyes anymore, perhaps a gray or maybe dull green, yet still with such fire, or how her makeup colored the edges of her hair beige. I noticed that at 95 she still streaked her cheeks with blush and wore a lipstick to match. She once was given a duster to dust herself with glitter that smelled of flowers, a funny gift for a woman in her 90's she said, but she used it frequently. She wore beautiful jewelry, all gifts, all with a story. Her hands were covered in age spots, and she mentioned that is what she hated the most about getting older. We laughed as I shared with her stories from work, or showed her that jeans that looked old were actually in style. She always noticed my hair done a certain way, or commented on how pretty I looked and always had a kind word to encourage as I told of frustrations.

We loved talking about how we were 70 years apart but we felt like our souls were the same. I would always look at her with wonder, knowing that a young, witty, vivacious, brilliant yet simple woman from Alabama was trapped in a rapidly aging body. From her I have learned a few key things that I can grasp for now.

The first is that when I meet the man I am going to marry, we will know deep down in our souls. Not at first necessarily, but it will come. And when it does she says there is no denying how certain you feel. This is funny because as I shared about the person I was dating at this time or that time, having never met him she would say with such a sweet and simple voice, "Well, that's good honey, have fun, but that is not the one." Her words jostled my heart and settled deep always.

The second, is to drink coffee every day and indulge my sweet tooth. Nanny and I conversed over coffee and sweets hundreds of times and these were the moments I cherished the most. Also, love God first and simply love my neighbor. She did not read the Bible every day. She did not have to. The hymns of old and the Scripture itself had been engraved in her mind and heart over the years in such a way that it poured from her mouth at all the appropriate times, never sounding preachy or condescending. Just as an answer to a simple question. And another is to live life fully as a wonderful adventure. She certainly did.

As I saw her laying peacefully surrounding by the most magnificent array of pink roses I thought she looked like a queen. As hundreds piled in that tiny room, that hot day in Alabama, I was never more proud to say that I was her eldest great-granddaughter. I wore a new silk dress vibrant with color to celebrate her life and clung to a solid flower from her grave as they closed it for the final time. I am honored to have known my great-grandmother. To have known a women that lived out the life of a Proverbs woman with dignity and grace.

A song comes to mind when I think of her now, "I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me, did I chose to love? Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering. Child of mercy and grace who blessed your name, unapologetically....I want to leave a legacy." Her legacy lives in my heart and I am forever grateful for my precious Nanny.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I never told you, but this is an absolutely amazing story... your great-grandmother sounds like a woman anyone would be blessed to know.