I've been thinking about my grandmother a lot in the last week. Maybe because tomorrow is what would have her 104th birthday. Maybe because I drove by her old house while taking my paternal grandmother to her doctor's appointment. Maybe because I'm back in Lubbock where there are a thousand dusty memories and remembrances of her.
Grandma was an incredible woman. Born in 1908, she lived through the world wars and the Great Depression and was shaped, as the world was shaped, by the events of those times. She struck out as a young single woman, going to a trade school and making her own way before marrying in her early thirties. But her first husband died young. She would then marry my grandfather in her late thirties and give birth to my mother at the age of 43. A few short years later, she became a single mother when my grandfather died as a result of a freak accident. She'd eventually marry again for a short time and then lose a third husband when my mother was a thirteen. She then raised her daughter on her own, working as a school librarian for most of her career.
My fondest memories of her are the times we spent the night at her home. It was a treat to stay up late and watch MASH reruns, the theme song forever bringing to mind the musty smell of Grandma's green, shag carpet. Afterwards, we'd brush our teeth with Aquafresh toothpaste, the old-school kind when it was still white, red and green striped. Then just before climbing in bed, she'd rub Vicks Vapor Rub under our noses so we'd breath free and easy through the night. And finally we'd climb into her giant king bed with the orange bedspread, say our prayers and giggle late into the night. In the morning, she'd fix sausage and scrambled eggs, and we'd set up the card table to eat breakfast in the living room while we watched cartoons.
I was a teenager when the dementia began to set in. I went once to spend the night with the intent to write her stories down before they slipped away. I'm not sure what happened to those notes, but I remember the stories of growing up on the farm and chasing chickens. Of how her daddy doted on her and her mother always told her that she never wanted to have another baby (Grandma was the youngest of two). Of getting her finger caught in the meat grinder and how proud my grandfather would hold his baby girl up with pride.
Looking back, I'm grateful for that night. If I could relive it now, I would ask her advice on being a single mother. I would ask her about loosing her husbands and how she overcame the heartache. I would ask her about pain and hardship and love and relationship. I would ask her about her love for the Lord and for others. I would ask her what she knows of life and I would ask her to teach me to sew.
I wonder if my nephew feels like I felt when he visits Nana and Grandad's. I wonder what Hannah will remember in years to come. Will there be particular smells that bring memories rushing back? Will their memories feel dusty like old discolored photos, as mine do now? Will their minds fill with the questions they wished they had the opportunity to ask?
I think Grandma would have appreciated the way I've lived my life and the places I've lived. I think she would have worried about me often and prayed for me more often. I think she would have been the first on the plane to visit me in South Africa even though flying terrified her so much. I think she would adore Hannah and would have walked with me every step of the way. I think she would appreciate my unconventional life as she told me stories of her unconventional life.
My grandmother was an amazing woman, and I hope I live my life even a fraction as well as she lived hers. And I hope that because of her legacy, Hannah will become a wise, strong and empowered woman.