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The Missing

I miss my grandmother.

I had the privilege of being close to her, if not always in proximity, then at least knowing that she was always just a phone call away.

I should have called her more.

I always loved her laugh, and I loved listening to her stories, the way she told them in her languid Southern drawl, reminiscent of humid Georgia days spent sipping sweet tea out on the front porch.

I should have listened more.

I loved the way she would slowly retreat into her own self after a while, knowing that she was becoming overwhelmed with people and socialization, but also knowing that she gave that trait to me.

I should have held her hand more.

I loved the eyes she had for my grandpa, always rolling to the ceiling in exasperation, always floating back down with so much love for the man who called her his bride.

I should have watched her more.

I loved the way she loved us, knowing that I could always find solace on the couch sitting next to her, as she would brush my hand with her beautifully crooked fingers, a little space of quiet in my grandmother’s presence.

The more I miss her, the more I love her.

On and on it goes.

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Accidental Injuries

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How’s your arm?

Oh, still a little sore. I feel a little better. I lit myself on fire. I didn’t know I was on fire for a minute. Saw the flames, but I didn’t know it was on my damn shirt. And I had my suspenders were over my shirt, and I couldn’t get my shirt off. About burned me up.

I do stuff like that all the time. There was a time I about chopped my fingers off. See the black marks there? I was out in the driveway working on the steam cleaner one day. Weren’t nobody home, and then the thing slipped and come right down on my fingers and about chopped my fingers off. And then I was covered in dirt and everything else. About to pass out, and this old rusty piece of metal about cut me. Thought I’d get lock jaw or something. Went in the house and I got me a dish pan. And I dumped everything I could find in the kitchen sink. I stuck my hand in it, and it about burned me up. I figured it’d kill all the germs. And then I passed out on the floor. And your mom came home, and I was laying there, and there was blood all over the place. And she thought I was dead. She panicked, [laughs] and called the ambulance, but I was okay.

Down in Key West that time, I was digging that ole tree stump out. And then a big limb broke off, and it was real hot outside. Man, I was really sweating and everything, limb broke off and smacked me right in the head. Busted a big ole place across my head, and run into the house and said, “Go run and get your mom, and run me to the hospital.” I was bleeding all over the place. Your mom standing there and said, “That looks like Kool-Aid!” [Laughs]

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School

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My grandpa is one of the most important people in my life. He’s known as Grumpy in my family because he’s one grumpy old man. When you really know him though, you can see that he’s kind and loving and he values his family. When I went to college, I got to live in the same town as my grandpa, and I made regular visits to see him throughout the week. We’d go out for dinner, or I’d go to his house and bake him his favorite cookies, or sometimes he’d show up at my dorm room on the weekends at who-knows-what-time in the morning to show me the latest project he’d been working on. Since I graduated, I haven’t been able to see him as much I’d like (which is partly my own fault).

But I recorded a few of our conversations on my phone to save for later. So I could listen to that gravelly voice full of quiet laughter and years of hard labor and decades of stories, memories, and love.

. . .

We used to have a song when I was in Presbyterian Sunday school called something about “bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t even know what a sheave was.

I don’t either.

Well it’s a bale of hay. I found out later. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was a good idea to bring ‘em in. And then we’d sing “All the Christians” and I liked that one because you got to stomp your feet, march around. Went to the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school at a little ole wooden building – I don’t think that building was much bigger than this kitchen. Seemed like it was big ‘cause we was little. And it had a big old pot belly stove in there in the winter time, and it had an ole upright piano that was bad out of tune. The old preacher would get up there and he would say, “Ok, everybody turn to page 92 in the song book.”

Somebody would say, “We sang that last week!”

He’d say, “Well, how ‘bout page 94?”

“I don’t know that one!”

“Well how ‘bout page 21?”

Then the piano player would say, “I can’t play that!”

And then we’d argue on what we gonna sing.

Then we’d have Sunday school and everybody’d go out there and get in a fight.

I feel like that’s not what you’re supposed to do in Sunday school.

Well, that’s what we did in the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school.

Now if the preacher liked you good, they had a big ole bell in the belfry that had a rope coming down. And if he liked you, he’d let you ring the bell. And one day he decided it was my time to ring the bell. I went to ring it, and I couldn’t reach the rope. And I didn’t get to ring the bell. Never did get to ring it. Rope was too short.

We’d meet in the church building there, and we’d sing some songs, and he’d make a little bit of a sermon, and then we’d go outside, sit under the tree and we’d have a Sunday school lesson out there. Sitting under the tree. ‘Cept when it was raining, then we stayed inside.

Sometimes you’d only get told about sin. And you’d start talking about stuff and I figured, well that’s stuff I liked to do! [laughs] And then I was in a dilemma, I didn’t know what to do then.

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Homesick

[This post was originally written September 22, 2013.]

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the morning and afternoon cooking meals to store in my grandfather’s freezer. He lives by himself in this old log cabin with a sagging, discolored roof surrounded by cedar trees and cow fields. And he’s just not very good at taking care of himself. Every now and then, he needs someone to come along and pick up after him and make sure he has something halfway decent to eat.

Cooking all day was exhausting, but also therapeutic in its own way. Dicing the vegetables, browning the meat, boiling the rice. It required all my attention and let me forget about these nagging worries for a little while.

My thoughts changed from ones of homesickness and anxiety to those of comfort and nostalgia. I held my grandmother’s ancient, grease-stained recipes between my fingers and thought back to childhood days of licking batter from the mixing bowl, sneaking bites from the cutting boards, and my grandma’s gentle, crooked fingers guiding mine as we stirred together.

For the majority of the time, my grandpa sat at the kitchen table telling me stories in his usual fashion: just true enough to be believable, but just ridiculous enough to be fantastical. The way he smiled and the way his eyes lit up for a few minutes reminded me that sometimes it’s the little things that can get rid of those festering misgivings brought on by long periods away from home. As I listened, I admired his calloused hands, rough from years of labor. I admired his curled grey beard, slightly discolored from lunch that afternoon. And I admired his eyes, blue-grey like the sea where he spent so many years of his life.

Yesterday was one of those days that felt ordinary in the moment, but, upon reflection, is one that will not easily be forgotten, pushed away to the cobwebbed sections of my mind. As I worked some oatmeal raisin cookie batter with a cracked wooden spoon and listened to my grandfather’s sandpaper voice, I realized how loved I am. How I am a part of something so much greater than me. I am from a family who knows nothing but love.

Homesick? No. Just loved.