Monday, August 12

Welcome guest Valley Brown

Millions of words have flashed before my eyes in novels, poems, essays, articles – and how many brief epiphanies they aroused in me over the course of a lifetime, I cannot begin to calculate. Yet none have impacted me so much as the paltry few thousand words I wrote for my grandmother during her last years.
     Mema, an obstinate, frail woman of no outstanding intellect or ambition, was my mother’s mother. As a child, I spent nearly as much time with her as with my mother. Mema ran a small corner grocery store, back when such establishments were common in little towns. She never went to college. I’m not certain she graduated from high school. Nevertheless, she comprehended the value of higher education and encouraged me to go beyond my known world.
     Through her natural doggedness, she gave the gift of perseverance. Through her sharp wit, ability to assess character, and general concern for others, she gave the gift of humanity. These gifts have served me well, despite the fact that I lean heavily toward procrastination and often take people too much at face value.
     These gifts served me best when Mema became confined to a nursing home late in life, her body exhausted from severe bone deterioration, and her mind slowly frittered away by senile dementia. I lived more than an hour’s drive away, with a fledgling business to help run and a fledgling child to raise, so I could not visit often. With her dementia, Mema had made distressing calls to my mother and uncle at all hours of the day or night over long-dead issues brought to the surface of her failing mind. Thus she was not allowed a phone in her room. Although I could not call her, I wrote to her as often as I could.
     At first, I sent short notes as to why I could not visit that week or for whatever holiday was upon us. The notes grew into pages. They became my conversations with her, although she did not write back. Her arthritic fingers were too deformed, her mind too tenuous for the task. When her eyesight dimmed, I switched to larger fonts on the word processor.  Even so, my mother often read them aloud to her in my absence. Every word was a precious gift to my Mema.
It wasn’t that my letters contained anything of great significance. They were little more than journals -- an accounting of little joys and frustrations, of triumphs and losses. They simply kept us connected. She savored them and saved them. I learned each letter was read three or four times the week it arrived, sometimes for as many days as it took for the next to come. They were neatly folded and stored in their envelopes, safe and secure in the cabinet by her bed. Because she felt she could visit with me any time she held one of my letters, I wrote them as if they were actual visits.
Mema always showed them to me and would pull out her favorites. Lumps formed in my throat each time I watched this once-vigorous, stubborn person – the one who exchanged dirty jokes with her closest friends over the store counter, who fried the greatest and greasiest sliced potatoes, who watched Lawrence Welk and Wheel of Fortune religiously – suddenly forget that she couldn’t go home or confuse me with one of her sisters. Seconds later, we would begin our visit anew, even though an hour had passed. Sometimes she would be aware of her forgetfulness and burst out in frustration.
     She died rather suddenly one evening. There was no time to reach the nursing home before she passed, no time for the final physical touch and speaking of farewell, and certainly no time to write her a good-bye. I wrote her one in my mind anyway. I keep it stored away, safe and secure, and it keeps us connected.

Thanks to chapter mate Valley Brown for covering for me today while I'm recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. Find out more about her!

2 comments:

  1. sending you quick-healing vibes, Liz!

    And, Valley, thank you for filling in - your Mema sounds like a precious gift...treasure those memories!

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