It’s one of those strange realities that growing old is a blessing. Taking my daughters to see my grandparents is one of these reminders.
Their knees and backs hurt them now and small and mundane tasks like washing the dishes and cutting firewood are impossible with the physical limitations of old age.
And then there is the constant adding of information. My grandparents are both thrilled to see my daughters and always are so sad when we leave and tell me they wish we’d stay.
But really, several times each visit they point to my youngest daughter and ask who that little boy is and they call my oldest by the wrong name several times and become antsy when they need to rest or nap.
I’m not offended or even saddened because it’s just one of those facts of life.
My grandmother on my father’s side passed away many years ago and had begun losing her memory when I was a small girl. My mother reminds me how I proudly shared that my grandfather was on the maiden voyage of the Titanic which my grandmother whispered to me in hushed tones in the kitchen and she was clearly confused… because, well… he wasn’t.
A fading memory was a fact I grew up with.
In high school we split our days between our house and nights at my grandmother’s being her in home help. She didn’t know who we were or what decade we were in but the years are still sweet to me.
I sat by her for hours and hours and memorized her fingers and profile, the hymns she hummed as she rocked and peered out the window.
I thought endlessly about what all she had seen in her days and longed so much to ask her questions, to know more, to learn who she was to have mothered nine children and seen droves of grandchildren and great grandchildren through her doors through the Great Depression, World Wars and beyond.
Our fingers intertwined she swung our hands between us as she sang and I was just desperate to know what she was like as a little girl in the first years of the century. I was hungry to know what she felt like when she was a teen like me. I wanted to know what was going on in her mind at that very moment, as she hummed and sat peacefully.
And now of course I marvel at her mothering and her silent grace and would just give so much to sit and ask her about everything from potty training to biscuit recipes.
So in marriage it came as a surprise to find that both of my husband’s grandmother’s were as sharp as tacks much later into their lives than my own grandmother’s had been. It began a running sad joke that Jacob would be left caring for me as I slipped green beans into my tea and argued that indeed each year was still 1985.
But really, the thought of it all sat heavy in my mind as I spent long afternoons watching my girls push little wagons in our backyard and teeter around on little pink tricycles.
There are so many stories I want to share with them and things I want them to know but also feeling in some ways that life will get busy, they will be teenagers and not so interested… Then in their twenties they will be establishing themselves in the world and completely engulfed in defining who they are and then all of the little things that fill up a person’s time will come in the way. I began to think of the stories I may never tell them.
And so these stories have been weighing heavily on me, wanting and begging to come out.
I’ve shied away from sharing stories because my life is mundane and ordinary. But it is mine. My stories hold no special meaning to most people but I trust they will hold very special meaning to my children.
And so, here is one story, plucked from the murky recesses of my mind.
When I was fifteen my very best friend Stephanie moved across the country and I felt gutted. Absolutely, totally and completely gutted.
We had been bosom friends for years, made special secret names for one another, and felt that we were kindred spirits. We had walked on long country roads weaving stories and sat up many long nights whispering secrets. So when that summer rolled around I convinced my mother that I could pay for a bus ticket to go and see her many many states away.
In hindsight and as a new mother it seems ludicrous. Bonkers actually.. But she let me go.
I packed a little suitcase and my mother dropped me off on the brick street in our small town at the side of our old drug and pharmacy. We snapped some pictures and I waited for the bus to come. Looking back I must have been ridiculously hard headed and surely my mother must have been worried. But off I went on a great and thrilling adventure, chin up and not even daring to look back.
The bus trip took over two full days, stopping in downtown bus stops in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Arkansas. I was bright eyed and eager to meet anyone and I barely slept a wink the entire time. I had my back pack, my hair in a braid or a bun and a Bible.
I looked entirely metropolitan, I’m sure.
The visit itself was a blur of mountain streams, late night talks and tears and then being back at a big bus station in southern Missouri with not quite enough money to make my return home. I was zealous in my faith and my little Bible was literally worn and the cover falling off and I prayed fervently at one bus stop that God would help me get home.
Out of the blue a neatly dressed man came up to me and handed me a book, marked with yellow high lighter and crisp pages. The exact book was something about spiritual warfare and I said I couldn’t and then thank you and before I knew it he was gone. I thumbed through the book and interspersed were crisp twenty dollar bills… Throughout the entire book.
Of course it was just what I needed to get home.
I ran out to find the man only to find that four or five more greyhound buses had pulled up and there was no way for me to tell where he was.
I was convinced he was an angel.
In hindsight it is entirely possible my youth, the Bible and bun gave me away. I was clearly not in my element… I may have resembled a runaway or troubled youth. And he felt this was his way at helping me get a head start. Who knows?
Either way, I eventually wound up back at the brick stone by the pharmacy in my tiny hometown in west Texas waiting for my mom to pick me up, our only conversations in the interim sparse and by payphone.
It’s a funny story to start with because when I even dare think of my little girls setting off cross country only a decade from now without me and without a way of contacting me I break out in a sweat and start to choke.
No thank you!!!
My sweet girls, your mother was too hard headed and your grandmother entirely too trusting or brave. No cross country trips alone at fifteen by bus for you!
You my little sweeties will have me by your side for a long time– no doubt with a bun on my head and a Bible under my arm.