NOTE: I wrote this on Thanksgiving Day 2021. Less than a month later, my beloved grandmother made her transition from this earth. I believe God encouraged me to write this reflection of that day because He knew what I did not, and He wanted me to have this to remember her by. I share here on my page because experiencing the loss of loved ones is a part of life and for me, what helps me to make some semblance of sense of it is my spirituality and connection with God.
Today, I spent a few hours with a centenarian. She just happens to be my grandmother.
Coming to visit her is always a trip down memory lane, seeing gas stations, rest areas, stores and roads that I grew up frequenting, now changed by the hands of time. Feeling a simpler way of living where community and breaking bread is more important that what is on the TV.
Me, I’m soaking it all in. Seeing my uncle wearing his trademark newsboy cap, sitting in a wooden chair with a woven back that was probably once a dining room chair, but has now become an outside chair due to age and weathering, and feels so comfortable and familiar. His drawl is thick as molasses and equally as slow, “ Y’all just knock on the back door there. Knock hard now.” “Hold on a second,” I hear my aunt call from inside just as clear as day. It almost seems that a window stands between us rather than a wooden door. “She just gets up and tries to move on her own when you’re not watching,” she says as she opens the door, speaking of my grandmother.
My grandmother is 100 years old. She hit the milestone earlier in 2021, and there were yard signs, special hats and balloons that celebrated her making it to 100 years. It’s an achievement even in this day and age with individuals living longer, but especially when you contrast it with people like me who have lost parents that were significantly younger.
My grandmother stands just around five feet tall, her bones showing the effect of osteoporosis, as the hunch in her back protrudes ever so slightly. Everyone treats her like she is frail and delicate, and she is, hence, my aunt’s earlier declaration, admonishing her for moving without asking for help. Still, though she be little, she is fierce, hence, the fact that she moves without letting anyone know. She feels like she can do it. Several times, my uncle had to remind me, she can stand up on her own, you don’t have to help her. It was just so easy to want to help her when in actuality she needed no help at all. Her frailty is deceptive in that way.
Of course, she could easily fall or get caught off balance and that is ultimately, what her children are trying to prevent. But she still has what I refer to as “get up and go” energy that propels her, like a little toddler, to want to be anywhere and everywhere. It’s hard to keep her still when there is activity in the house, and even harder, if that activity is outside of her view. This obviously causing the movement to put people in her view.
Her eyes are the coolest and lightest blue with brown pupils within them. I believe this is the effect of cataracts and glaucoma, but I have never confirmed this. I just know that I’ve seen it before in others who are of an advanced age. Her lavender satin sleep cap matches her lavender velvet feeling but likely polyester made dressing gown and her fuzzy lavender socks. She is in rare form and both I and my cousin, via FaceTime, compliment her on her beautiful matching attire. She is seated in a recliner chair that can assist her in standing. It was my grandfather’s chair before he passed. He was the only person who sat in it. However, now, she’s made his king’s seat her queen’s seat. She is covered with a thick purple throw just as snug as a bug in a rug with my aunt and uncle doing their level best to keep her warm with clothing and blankets.
Once she recognizes it’s me, her granddaughter, daughter of her youngest son, who she calls Chewny, she gets excited, grabs my hand and exclaims “I’m so happy to see you. I can’t believe you’re here.” My dad likens her a lot to a little child, and I can see why because she adopts many of the mannerisms of youngsters who display a since of awe and excitement at the most mundane of things. That’s not to say that it’s mundane that I came to visit her, but it was nice to get the reception she gave me. “Get whatever you want out of there,” she tells me, referring to anything I want to eat or drink in her house. This reinforces why so many of us kids love our grandparents because they spoil us more than our parents would.
Yet, all I want to do is sit in front of her and stare at her. I recognize how valuable and precious this time with her is. I understand that I could easily not have another opportunity such as this and I want to enjoy and bask in every minute of it. It’s equally hard to stay in touch with her by phone because now her hearing is not the best and she has memory lapses that occur until she can place her eyes on you. It’s why so many of us call our aunt by video when she visits, so that our grandmother can see and talk with us too.
It’s also hard because she asks where my mom is, her memory forgetting that my mom has passed. I know she knows because the first time I saw her after my mom passed, she told me how sorry she was she couldn’t come to the funeral and how sad she was to know that my mom was gone. I know she knows in her heart, but her mind pulls on my heart when she asks, “Where is your mama?” By the way, we understood why she couldn’t come to the funeral. Actually, we communicated to our uncles and aunts that we felt it best she didn’t come. She gets flustered very easily now, so much so that her heart races and her breath gets short. Plus, it would be a three-hour car ride, and she has to go to the bathroom often.
So I sit and stare at her. I look at how she looks now in comparison to how she looked in a picture she took over 20 years ago that sits on her mantle. In the picture, her face is full and now, her cheeks and eyes seem sunken in because that fullness is no longer there.
She’s not the only one. As I pan the room and look at my uncles, my aunt and even my dad, I see how everyone has gotten older and just as women with young ones wish that time would slow down, I wish for the same. But I know it won’t. I know that I’m getting older as is everyone around me. I know that just as this little town that my grandmother lives in has changed from the time my father lived there, changed from the time I came while I was in grade school and has changed since I’ve been out and working in the world, everyone around me is changing too.
But for this moment, I enjoy what I’m receiving. Riding in a car with my grandmother in the backseat. Holding her hand as she watches the cars pass by and feeling her hold my hand tighter as big trucks run along side us or we make turns. Taking the drive that my family and I would take often on the 3rd Sunday in April to my grandparents’ church, rote memory telling me where we needed to turn and remembering what the church looks like. Visiting now not for the annual singing that my grandfather instituted to celebrate the hymnal his father wrote and the singing that involved not only singing the lyrics but also the notes, we now visit my grandfather’s grave and place flowers on it.
My grandmother pushes herself up to look out the window to see the grave and though initially, she called it her father’s grave, as soon as the car moves forward and she sees the name on the grave, she says it is her husband’s grave. We then venture to another cemetery where my great grandparents are buried and she asks to see it. She again pushes herself to see it. She notes that when we pass a small white AME Zion church that this is the church she came up in. She is going on a trip down memory lane just as I am. She is seeing how much things have changed since her youth. She is noting all those who are no longer here with her.
Even still, so much reminds me of times gone by. The fact that my grandmother’s toilet water is still blue and she still uses the same little scent booster that sits on the toilet rim to disguise any smells that might emanate from the pot. The hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of photos of me, my brother, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts and all the extended family members seemingly frozen in time, the fireplace that I stood on when I couldn’t have been no more than 8 years old and belted out a tune albeit off key for my family in my gown that likely had Rainbow Brite, Jem or the Care Bears on it, the steps outside leading up from the driveway that I had a photoshoot on at the age of 5 (honey, I knew how to pose and I knew my angles). And that’s not all, traveling through the city and seeing the old school Christmas lights hung on every light post in the shape of a candle, tree or star makes my eyes light up just as it did when I was younger.
It’s a wonderful trip down memory lane, one I simultaneously look forward to and one which fills me with a longing for times gone by. Still, I take it all in just as I’m taking in this lady who has been on this earth for 100 years. I’m in awe, but I’m also grateful that I get to witness this. Grateful that this woman’s blood runs through my veins just as my mom’s did. Grateful that I had the opportunity to see her and spend time. Grateful that I was able to hold her hand and feel just how strong she still is. This was what I give thanks for. This is my Thanksgiving.