10 June 2009

For the Want of a Nail

Here is a poem my grandmother taught my mother, and my mother taught me.

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For the want of a soldier, the battle was lost;
For the want of the battle, the war was lost,
All for the want of a nail.

04 June 2009

The Subtance of Things Hoped For

Her daughters scurry around in a dither, as usual, carrying on up to five separate conversations at the same time--and, they will proudly add, keeping track of every word. I don't even have to be there to know how it will be.

Grammy will quietly find a corner of the table, a chair, spread out her crosswords or just sit quietly watching as two or three out of eight birth control methods that didn't work empty countless lunch-size containers of chocolate pudding, mix the pudding with crumbled Oreo cookies and a gummy worm, and putting it all back in with a (washed) silk flower coming out the top.

Or another day, she'll laugh while seven out of seven remaining fight over which one is Mom's Favorite. Or Daddy's Favorite--and my mom, the perfect number seven, wins this one because, after all, Daddy bought her a scooter (motorcycle?) when he wouldn't let any of the others have one.

She'll happily go along with almost anything, but when she puts her foot down, everyone knows she means business.

Like the time she loaded up the first six kids in the Jeep and took herself out to learn how to drive. Driving lessons hadn't gone so well the first time around, and everyone refused to teach her. (Had she driven into a creek? Or was that another ancestor?) But she wouldn't take no for an answer, and by the time she got back, she could drive that Jeep like nobody's business.

She remembered every birthday, every Christmas. The story is that she sent all her children Valentine's cookies every year, but we grandchildren never heard a peep about it. There were at least some among our aunts and uncles who hoarded these famous cookies, and the younger ones didn't get a taste of them until near-adulthood.

Upon moving from one of my childhood homes, I sent her a picture of what it looked like out my window, asking her to paint it for me. She had taken painting classes, I think, several times through the years. She granted my request, and it still sits in my bedroom today, the view looking just like I remember it used to, with every pine tree and every branch as it always was.

Then she had problems with her wrists, got too weak to paint, even to write letters. Ah, those letters....

"It's raining rain today," she'd begin, and continue on with all the news and little acrobatic stick men illustrating the events of the day.

But I got the call this week--hospice took over, she's hardly awake during the day, and we're not sure how long it will be...

A visit now, while she sleeps the days away and hardly wakes for breakfast, would barely yield a few moments for us to connect. And since there's quite a distance between us and the traveling complicated, I've already seen her for the last time.

It was in the fall, and I had flown down for a weekend, just a short time with just the two of us, mostly. We went to church together, ate together, visited with the aunts and uncles together. I saw her in the middle of the night, light shining over her perfect up-right posture as she read her Bible until she could go back to sleep, faith unshakable.

That's what she would want my faith to be right now, while we all begin to miss her--utterly unshakable, the substance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not yet seen.

02 June 2009

Climbing the Ladder

I stand at the top, gazing at the landscape from the height of the monster I've just climbed.

I start these things easily, remembering with the first few steps that I am, sometimes, afraid of heights.

Breathe deeply. Don't stop. Look at the next step. Don't focus on how far you have left to go--let that be peripheral while you focus on the details of the moment. Then at the top, see how far you've come.

It takes work to conquer the fear. Is the top worth the price? Absolutely, and I come down the same way I got up: one steady step at a time.