Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grandma Bessie

My Grandma Bessie came into my life when I was about nine or ten years old. She was officially my step-grandmother, and yet I was closer to her than my other original grandmothers since they had both passed away when I was younger.

She moved into my grandfather's house in town and I knew things were different when we were instructed by my parents to knock on the door we had always just opened before. I feared that she would a distant, austere person who would see my visits as intrusions. Nothing could have been further from reality.

Since my sisters were older, some off to college and others preoccupied with other aspects of growing up, Grandma Bessie became my grandmother. I went to visit her most Saturdays and she welcomed me every time, lighting up as I entered the room. As the fifth child in the family, I rarely felt singled out as special by an adult relative. I was just one of the girls to everyone else, but to Grandma Bessie I was truly special and my heart soared to know that fact.

My memories center on just sitting and talking with her. We'd sit at her kitchen table and I'd watch as she cut a Golden Delicious apple down the center with her paring knife. She'd carve out the seeds from the middle, divot the core out of the top and bottom and then hand it to me to eat. She'd ask me about my school, about the books I was reading. She'd devote her time to me, watching me eat my apple and nodding at my comments. This kind of attention, something that was rare in my very busy home, turned that simple apple in to a rich, delicious dessert that I lingered over.

One day she showed me how to make a bed. It was just a little thing, but I'll never forget her hands smoothing over the clean white sheets, showing me how to fold the corners, to fold back the top sheet over the blanket. She showed me how to karate chop the comforter just under the pillows so there was a crisp line. She let me try it on the side I was making up and then told me I had done a beautiful job.

The picture above is one of only two pictures I have of her and I together. It was my fifteenth birthday and she made a cake for me. I love the way she is standing behind me, hugging me around my waist, proud and happy. She is yet another one of those women in my life who have posed this way with me, making sure I had center stage even as they stood, ready to support me in any way I needed.

I went to her house to say goodbye to her before I went to college and I remember her hugging me and whispering "You'll always be special to me, honey." Throughout college she sent me letters, always with $1.00 bills in them with the note "Go and get yourself some ice cream." In that complicated, cacophonous world of college, those letters were like small islands of comforting silence as I sat on my bed and read them.

I was in her town just a few weeks before she died and thought about going up to see her, but was busy and decided against it. She passed away just months before my wedding while I was away on a trip to Washington D.C. I visited her grave soon after, but it was just a pile of freshly-turned dirt. It meant nothing to me. When I went home, my mom pulled out a wedding ring. It had been Grandma Bessie's and she had left it to my mom who held it out to me. For months we had been looking for a band that would match my diamond ring. I looked at the ring and smiled. It was a perfect match.

I've worn that ring for 27 years now and when I look at it, I can see it on her hand, holding out an apple for me, smoothing those sheets, waving to me as I left her house. I know that she is still with me, still cheering me on in life.

I would say I hope she is proud of me and the woman I've become, but you know what? That is the legacy she left me: an unwavering certitude in her devotion and faith in me. Would she be proud of me? There's not a doubt in my mind that she is.


Susan said...

I love this picture! Was it your birthday? I am certain she is proud of you, too!

Bossy Betty said...

It was my fifteenth birthday! I knew you would like this post since you were also a grandma's girl!

Pat Tillett said...

What a great story!
The part about the ring got to me. That is very touching. She's never really gone as long as you remember her.

I'm still trying to figure out which one of you had the cooler glasses...

Shan said...

I appreciated the flowers this morning, but I have enjoyed the reminiscing and love even more.

SUGAR MOON said...

This was a great post! I loved it. I always say every child needs grandparents.