The knot in my gut is twisting tighter as her breath draws shallow. I just spoke to her on the phone and could only muster an “I love you, Granny” when there were a million other words that wanted to come out, but couldn’t find there way past the knot. So I come to this keypad that has become my solace when the words won’t come out of my mouth and need to just come from my soul. The cursor blinks expectantly for words of hope and encouragement and I don’t have them today. Only a knot. And memories.
The smell of collards cooking makes some people wince, but to me it smells like home. Just like the embrace of that round white-haired woman cooking them. Like home. In that kitchen with the metal cabinets and washer and dryer and small table all fit neat on the end of that big white farm house that leaned a little downhill on the edge of a potato field in flat eastern North Carolina.
Granddaddy was a potato farmer and his Naomi knew how to cook those round white spuds perfectly mixed in with that greasy pot liquor. That’s not some kind of alcoholic drink, it’s what the juice from cooked collards is referred to in eastern NC where this woman who hugged like home lived and raised three girls and took her care of farmer husband.
Between Granny’s collards and homemade biscuits with a side of her insatiable and all-too-often embarrassing jokes, stomachs and souls would be filled. Filled with goodness that comes from hard work and a simple life and not taking yourself too seriously, the world does enough of that for you.
Summers were spent at our slice of the only heaven we knew along the Pamlico River. My brother and cousins and I would stay weeks with our Grandparents and there would be plenty of jokes and swimming and collards. Granny would pile us in the Pontiac and we’d travel the 30 miles to the Moose Lodge to play Bingo alongside her with her 20 cards taped together and three bags of ink dobbers. There were lucky charms and cigarette smoke and pepsi’s enough to float a boat and make some grandchildren feel like they had been to town in the grandest way.
There were nap time rituals that involved her rendition of “Michael Finnagan” that my children now request over and over until I’m out of breath and blue in the face. There was the snore game where she would pretend to snore ten times and on number ten we better be asleep, or at least pretend like it.
Those were the days. Memories too many to name with a woman too loved to put in words.
Last August I piled the kids and myself in my ford for the ten hour trek to Florida where Granny now lives between her two daughters homes. We shared a week of the same jokes I’ve heard for thirty-five years and they were as funny as the first time they tickled my ears. Granny was turning ninety and there would be too many new memories to miss if we didn’t attempt the trip. So we went. And we shared a week that I wouldn’t trade for a plate full of Granny’s collards and potatoes.
If one has ever exemplified a life lived in joy, this woman has. She didn’t have it easy. Her soul and her body has known it’s share of loss. From losing a breast to cancer and other parts I can’t even name to so many surgeries I can’t begin to count, her body knows loss. From losing a husband after almost fifty years of tending to him daily with lunch at eleven thirty and supper at five o’clock and losing a daughter that mothered me after having her for a short fifty years, her soul knows loss.
She is a survivor and I think a part of me thought that meant she would live…longer. Ninety years is a long time. A good long time. But is it ever long enough for those left behind? The writing appears to be on the wall as much as on this screen, but I know God will take her when He’s ready and not a minute sooner.
This may mean we get to celebrate ninety-one years with her here. And it may mean we celebrate here without her.
The sweetest part of her story is that she knows her Savior…and He knows her. She is at peace with her life and though she would rather stay to see her grands another day, she is at peace if she doesn’t. She knows where she’s going and I’m sure my mama will be happy to see her mama again. In perfect form. And even more than that, she is most likely closer than us to spending the rest of her life praising the Lord. Literally praising the Lord.
So when we do lay her body to rest under the pines next to that small brick Methodist church where she poured her heart and children into, we will do it rejoicing in the promise her soul will not be at rest, but resurrected and rejoicing, along side her Savior.
I find peace in that. My knot is starting to loosen as her breath may remain shallow…but ever closer to being swept up in Glory and the sweet release.
She told me tonight in her sweet, weak voice that she loved me more than I loved her…in tears I disagreed. But then again, who is going to tell this ninety year old woman what is right and what is wrong. She’s closer to Heaven than me and if she wants to think she loves me more, I’ll let her.
It’s not about loving more or less anyway, it’s just about knowing this kind of love. Between a girl and her Granny. I’ve had two sent from God and He’s close to bringing the second one Home. Leaving a void in this motherless mother that’s soon to be grandmother-less, too.
I’ve had more than some ever get. More of a mother for twenty-one years, more of two grandmothers in thirty-five and more love all together than some know in a lifetime. I’m not complaining. I’m just grieving. And rejoicing at the same time. And yes, that is possible.