Archive for the ‘grandparents’ Tag
In last week’s post I promised more discussion about my failed attempt to finish my novel by January 24th. Like I said, I’m happy with the way the revisions are going, but in February I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic about it. I have been working on this novel for YEARS. It has grown and developed so much, but it has also spanned all the years of my motherhood. In fact, when I started with my first critique group I missed our inaugural meeting because my oldest child had just been born. At the time, I was workshopping the same manuscript I am working on today, and in February, that newborn baby turned ten years old.
When his birthday arrived, I was already feeling like a failure for not finishing my novel. Now I began to mourn the fact that my baby had become such a big boy. Time felt like a weight on my shoulders. I didn’t seem to have any control over it. I wanted to stop the rush of years, get my book done, and hold on tight to my little ones before they all grew up.
About that time, my parents came into town and invited me to a Utah Jazz basketball game. I brought my oldest son with me, and we had fun eating nachos and cheering with the crowd. Then something entirely unexpected happened. At half-time a group of dancers came to the floor. They wore long tops and pants, and most of them had white, permed hair. They were announced as Jean’s Golden Girls, ranging between 50-93 years old. Between them they had 500 children, 1200 grandchildren, and 250 great-grandchildren. The music started, and those women started to shake and shimmy like you’ve never seen.
It took my breath away. I watched them give everything to the dance, smiles on their faces. I whooped and screamed, delighted at their performance, their joie de vivre, and suddenly I was crying. Tears streaming down my face in the middle of a loud, hot, crowded basketball stadium. I seriously wondered if I was losing my mind. I tried wiping my eyes before my mom could see and wonder about my mental health, but I just couldn’t watch those ladies without a profound emotion welling up from deep inside.
By the time their six minutes on the court had ended, something inside me had changed. I didn’t think of time in the same way – as something finite that was rushing past me, ever elusive. I saw it now as a gift to be enjoyed. Celebrated. Used for living, writing, mothering, dancing. The fear that time would pass me by no longer pressed down on me, and when the show ended with a ninety-three year old woman doing the splits in center court, I cheered louder than anyone else in the stadium.
That was over a month ago, and the weight is still diminished. I continue to ask myself, ‘Will I ever get my novel finished?’ but I know I will. Maybe not in the time frame I would like, but I am committed to it, and I will finish it. It is also true that my children will grow up much faster than I would like. And it will break my heart and make me happier than I can imagine all at the same time. But I’m going to try not to worry too much about deadlines or driver’s ed. I’m going to try and enjoy the dance.
This morning my grandmother left behind a body that had grown too weak, too old, too tired. And although her body pained her greatly, deprived her of independence, hid away the comforts of sight and sound, she bore it’s faltering with the loveliness of grace. Grace that was always sweet, and full of kindness and love.
I knew it first as a child, my grandmother’s grace. It was the encompassing embraces on her front step. Her soft voice that floated through a room. It was sitting on her pink velvet couch, knowing instinctively not to wiggle, but to cross my legs at the ankle and take just one piece of spun sugar candy from the crystal bowl on the coffee table, not a handful. It was warm, home-made meals of pot roast, potatoes, green beans, and jello salad. And delicate figurines with long, elegant lines behind glass curios.
To me she was my grandmother, generously caring and kind. The Margaret whose name I had inherited as my own, tucked behind my first given name. Back then I could not have fathomed what it meant for her to be so lovely, a farm wife who spent her life in the rural farming communities of Eastern Idaho. As an adult I have learned to see the iron strength of courage and faith that was the muscle and sinew of her grace.
Grandma grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. It was there, on her father’s small dairy farm, that she learned to combine industry and elegance. She would accompany her mother, a gifted seamstress, to buy the family’s groceries. Flour was sold in large, cotton feedsacks decorated with brightly colored prints, and they would linger over each pattern before deciding which sack to purchase, knowing it would become a new a dress for my grandmother.
After high school, grandma took classes at University of Montana in Missoula. She saved up $60 working so she could become a school teacher, but when she was called to serve a religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she used the money for that instead. She was sent to the Northwestern United States Mission. Her responsibilites included traveling from Southern Oregon to Montana, visiting sick missionaries and speaking at conferences. On one of her hospital visits she met a farm boy from Grant, Idaho, who was recovering from appendicitis. Howard Taylor.
After their missions, Howard asked her on a date. They spent a Saturday afternoon together in Lewiston. The next night he proposed. After five more dates they were married. Howard started out milking cows, like Margaret’s father. But it wasn’t long before he got into the potato business, and soon they had their own potato farm. They had seven children together. The oldest was out on a tractor by the time he was six, and the rest followed.
When their fifth child was still a baby, Grandma suffered her first tragedy. She had a severe attack of encephalitis that almost killed her. Instead, it paralyzed her and took her memory and her ability to speak. Her two youngest children were sent to the homes of friends and family in the community while Margaret fought to regain her health and her former capacities. Howard, the man whom she had met on a hospital bed of his own, nursed her through the best he could while running his growing farm.
It was a slow, frustrating recovery, but Margaret learned to walk and talk and read and write all over again. It was different. Harder. Her memory was still missing. Her life was void of a personal narrative to anchor and direct it. She couldn’t remember who she had been. But she recognized that somehow, in the comparison between then and now, something was lacking. She assumed her missionary service had been a failure because she couldn’t remember it, and regarded books stacked along a shelf with sadness, unable to recall the stories that had once inspired her. But she pushed on. The grace with its sinews of steel.
I didn’t know this woman when I sat in her front room as a child, watching the reflection of our decorous heads in her large gilt-framed mirror. I had no understanding of the value of her grace. Even now I wonder how she managed to preserve it. Especially after her second tragedy struck. Howard’s abandonment. He left her after more than twenty-five years of marriage. The shock and grief came closer to killing her than the encephalitis. I was just a baby when it happened. Too small to register the aftershocks. By the time I could look and see, she had rebuilt herself. Again. With the same loveliness of grace. So beautiful to look and and be near that you might fail to see the courage and conviction that it rested on.
And now she is gone, has left her body and has moved on. She’ll take her sweet-strong loveliness of grace with her, but for those of us left behind, the sons and daughters and grandchildren with children of our own, there is a limitless inheritance to share. A legacy of love and kindness, crossed ankles and bended knees, that will be a strength of its own. One I hope my daughter, herself a Margaret, will learn to treasure.