This past weekend I had to be away on a work trip. Which meant Curly Girl got to hang with her Neana (my mom) for a few days. I was supposed to arrive back home Sunday evening. Thanks to a massive flight delay that I was never quite clear on the reason for, I did not make it home until after midnight (read: technically Monday morning). Neana graciously said, “I’ll take the girl to school so you can sleep in a bit.”
Thank you Neana and Baby Jesus and all the saints, right?
So I did just that. Slept in a little. Took my time on my first and second cups of coffee.
As I was pouring my third cup (don’t judge—you didn’t deal with that flight delay!), Neana came back, and I knew as soon as she came in, something had gone awry.
“I’m irritated! People don’t follow the car rider line rules!” she said, and I smiled and shook my head, knowing exactly what she meant (and having once or twice broken those rules—albeit inadvertently—myself). “They’re just lazy, acting as if the rules don’t apply to them! What if a kid gets hurt?!?”
“I know Mom,” I said, “I know.”
This morning, Neana having gone back home and me having had some semblance of a night’s sleep, I took CG to school as usual. And on the way, she entertained me with her version of the events the day before, which basically boiled down to her declaring, “Neana was NOT happy, Mommy!”
I laughed. Long and hard. And then said, “Yep. I know. But the thing is, baby, Neana was right. And she wanted you to understand that the rules about the car rider line matter.”
She grinned and said yes, she knew that, and then added, “But really you don’t mess with Neana!”
More long hard laughter, and then, “Baby, you come from a very long line of strong women.” At this, she smiled again, and nodded in agreement, her chin stuck out defiantly as if to assert her own place in that line.
If she only knew….
She will, one day, realize how strong she is. How brave and determined. How completely resilient. I spend parts of every day marveling at her grit and grace.
Today she has reminded me of my grandmothers—Nana and Grandma, to me. The two strongest women I have ever known and whose presence in my life made the sort of difference that I can only just now, years after they’ve both been gone, see.
How I wish they were here these days.
Nana was a small woman in stature—but not so at all in terms of her life. Widowed early, left with three young children to raise, she did so with that exact same grit and grace I speak of in my Curly Girl. She did so relying on her faith, her friends, her family, to see her through. She did so with unending unconditional love. She did so with opinions (firm ones!). She did so with humility. She did so with her shoulders squared and her head held high. Even though I towered over her by the time I was in high school, I will always, somehow, look up to her. She was pure class.
My Grandma was quieter in her strength. Simpler. Perfectly content to bake and sew and garden in an effort to take care of those she loved. When I was very small, and would wake up early on a visit to her home in west Tennessee, I’d patter into the kitchen where she’d already have breakfast going, and I’d crawl up on the counter and watch as she cracked eggs and rolled out biscuits and fried up sausage. Her losses, her griefs, were different than Nana’s, but she certainly had them. But I never saw her anything but pleasant. Kind. Gracious. Even when those around her were being anything but those things.
At Nana’s funeral, her grandchildren—all 9 of us—served as the pallbearers who escorted her casket in to a full sanctuary. We sang “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” a capella, as we walked in, and I remember my cousin Hunter sliding one arm around me in support, so shaken we both were. And I remember thinking that his strength in that moment echoed Nana’s, poured in to him and me both…where it has remained.
At Grandma’s funeral, my cousin Annie was still a toddler. I am the oldest of Racille’s grandchildren, Annie is the youngest—25-plus years separate us. I keep memories of Grandma that Annie will never have. But at Grandma’s visitation, Annie and I sat together, sharing snacks and saying hello to relatives, me often holding her on one hip as person after person came to tell us how much they loved our grandmother.
Today is All Saints Day—celebrated in a variety of ways all over the world. And in my head are the names of many people I have loved who are no longer here. My heart is full of gratitude for them all, even as their memories tug at my soul today and I keep pushing back a lump in my throat. How I laughed at my Curly Girl’s recounting of her own grandmother’s righteous indignation yesterday morning. And how I smiled, deep inside, realizing that she’s learning from her so much of what Nana and Grandma taught me.
We do not live and move or have being in a vacuum, y’all. Not ever. Good, bad and ugly we are surrounded.
Today I am so very grateful for the good.