Next to “I love you, darlin'” this was my grandmother’s favorite phrase of all time.
When spoken, you knew it was going to precede one of three things:
1) A long, drawn out story with more tangents than a Geometry textbook;
2) A series of made up facts and historical inaccuracies in order to prove a point; or
3) A life lesson rooted in an anecdote nestled in a parable and wrapped in a moral that held no logic but somehow made complete sense.
“The thing about it is” was woven into every conversation we ever had and often more than once. When heard, I knew it was time to take a seat, pour myself a drink, and kick back to enjoy another one of her famous filibusters.
Like a tree, her stories would start with a single purpose and then splinter off into different limbs, branches, and twigs comprised of unfinished sidebars and asides that had absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. The stories were long, the stories were often, and the stories were often retold over and over and over again with the same fervor and well-timed crescendos.
Tonight I realize that I’m going to miss them terribly.
This morning, around 4am, my grandmother passed away peacefully in her sleep. Which means that for the last 21 hours, she’s been telling stories to Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates and creating a never-before-seen backlog of souls waiting to get in.
As many of you may remember, I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel with her from New York to Texas last year when we made the move to bring her closer to family so she could have in-home care. Even though she had suffered a heart attack and a series of strokes, she still had every bit of her wits about her and every bit of that spark that made her unique.
My grandmother was one of the more special people in my life and we had a bond that few are ever fortunate enough to have. Her love, unconditional. Her wit, unmatched. Her knowledge, unbridled.
Ever since I was a wee little baby, she’s been there to teach me, guide me, and nurture me.
She would drive for hours just to give me the opportunity to see a train cut through town so we could see what color caboose was trailing it.
She gave me 12 presents, one per day leading up to Christmas just like the song, and it was a tradition I looked forward to every year.
She gave me my first and many subsequent tastes of booze as an infant because I (and I quote) “seemed to love the bourbon” when I was fussy.
She taught me how and where to find the biggest juiciest worms, how to bait a hook, how to cast, and how to reel ’em in.
She taught me the right way to scale a fish, the right way to filet it, and even shared her Top Secret “Tasties” recipe for freshwater Perch. A recipe that no one else was privy to. Even though it consisted of nothing more than crushed Saltine crackers and whisked eggs, I felt like the luckiest kid on earth when she called me over and whispered it into my ear as we stood in the cabin’s kitchen.
She taught me how to recognize bird calls. “Hear that? That’s a red-bellied woodpecker. Hear that? That’s a sand-breasted chickadee…no…wait…make that a WHITE-breasted chickadee.” While I highly doubt her accuracy, it’s a magical moment for a nine-year old when you think your grandmother is able to converse with waterfowl. Fortunately for them, she couldn’t, or we would have faced an early migration of historical proportions.
She taught me at the age of ten that you can never really trust anyone, especially family, when it comes to a game of Scrabble. When she laid down “FRITZEL” for a zillion points I thought it looked funky. When I said I wanted to challenge its validity, she replied with a gasp, “You don’t trust your grandmother? Darlin’, that’s a word. You can challenge it if you want, but remember, I get 50 bonus points and you lose your turn once you see that it’s in the dictionary.” When the game was finished, I thumbed through the dictionary and remarked that the word didn’t exist after all. Her life lesson? “Well, the thing about it is, you need to be careful. Sometimes the strategy is to get away with one now and then.”
She taught me the importance of taking your time, of not being in such a rush, and to not take life too seriously. She encouraged me to stop and smell the roses, a moral echoed in the book she introduced to me at a young age entitled, “Ferdinand.”
She taught me that no one can whip up Chicken ‘n Dumplings like a grandmother. She taught me the dangers of trying to master her Leg of Lamb recipe, a lesson that ended with me being ravaged with acute food poisoning. And she taught me that anything prepared by a grandmother’s hand will taste better and warm the soul faster than anything prepared by anyone else.
The lessons go on and on but I think one of the gifts I treasure most is that she instilled all of her loving traits in her own children. As such, the light carried by my grandmother has been and will continue to be carried by my own mother. I see my grandmother’s influence within her…from the unconditional love and patience to the unwavering words of encouragement and focus on family. I see my grandmother in the way my mother interacts with her own grandchildren and how much they fawn over her when she’s near. Thanks to this, she’ll never truly be gone.
My children are heartbroken over the loss because Grams, a.k.a Gram Cracker, a.k.a. Gramma-lamma-ding-dong, a.k.a. Grambunctious, meant the world to them. I’m just so thankful that they too had the opportunity to create lasting memories with her as well. I don’t think she ever realized just how many lives she touched and enriched, and I don’t think she’d have believed it even if we told her, but I suppose that’s part of her charm.
It comforts me to know that my children will experience the same soul-enriching relationship with their grandmother as I had with mine. All the memories, all the love, all the guidance. And while she may not be capable of showing them how to bait a hook with a big fat juicy worm, she’s a natural at carrying forth my grandmother’s filibuster torch.
And the thing about it is?
They’re gonna love every single word.
Just as I did.