Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lightning Bugs and Outrageous Love

Gramma is dying. That’s the news I got last night. Hospice is coming to help her through the final stages of her life. I imagine she has helped others - family, friends, countless farm animals and companions – through these same stages. Anyone who has lived as long as she has knows how it plays out.

Gramma has lived a good life. She taught me how to live too.

Right now, one of the things she’s missing are her memories. I have some of them and I’m taking good care of them.

I remember sitting in church next to her, holding her hands. They were brown from the sun and from work on the farm. The knuckles were wider than the areas between them and her rings would spin around and around as I played with them. I wanted hands like that – hands that knew hard work but were soft and full of love as she held my face in them.

I remember her laugh. It comes to me, almost audibly, every day. It was a laugh that came from the most authentic place in the human heart. It didn’t hold back. It didn’t pretend to be polite and quiet. It was generous in its invitation to join in. It was real and it meant something.

I remember spending weekends alone with Gramma as a little girl. We would do chores around the farm and then she would play with me. She had a book of poetry that we would read aloud together and then she would encourage me to sing the poems. I would make up tunes and she would tell me it was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. I believed her.

Gramma smelled like Triple Lanolin hand lotion.

It was Gram who taught me to knit. I must have been six or seven but she sat there patiently teaching me the long-tail cast on. I could only ever knit rectangles but it laid the foundation for coming back to knitting 36 years later. Today, when I knit, I come close to the peace I felt sitting on that brown, saggy couch next to Gram.

Gramma taught me to eat peanut butter on toast. Her secret was to put real butter - there was never any margarine in her house! - on the toast first. I still eat it that way.

The first person to ever ask if I was gay was Gram. It was before I really knew whether I was or not, but I never doubted her love for me and she was the first person I ever told the truth to.

When all of the grandkids were at the farm there were a lot of us. All girls until Jamie came along later. As night would fall in the summer we would beg Gramma for an empty mayonnaise jar. We punched holes in the lid, lined the bottom with grass and put a stick or two in there for good measure.

As dusk came we would begin the hunt for lightning bugs. With all those girls, there was a lot of screaming and giggling as the bugs crawled up and down our arms and we tried to coax them into the jar. Eventually the jar glowed with warm yellow light.

We would take the jar into the house and take it to the bedroom where all of us were camping out together. Gram would get us settled down for the night, kiss each of us and turn out the lights so we could watch our jar of fireflies as we drifted off to sleep.

One night, after repeating this summer ritual, Gramma did something so generous and outrageous I’ve never forgotten it.

We settled down and she turned off the light. Suddenly the room was sparkling! There were little glowing lights everywhere I looked! It was like stars, right over my sleeping bag! I was speechless.

Then I heard that laugh.

She had opened up the jar and set all those lightning bugs free.

This isn’t a eulogy for Gramma. It’s a tribute to the sparkle that everyone who knows her now carries in their soul. It’s a reminder that it doesn’t take a lot to be as generous and outrageous as she was that night when I was nine.

Gram, when it’s time, it’s OK to open up that jar and set your light free.

Thank you for being the first person in my life to love me without reservation and thank you for giving me these memories. I love you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for those memories, Tanya. All things considered, Mother is doing well; she doesn't remember all the things that used to make her unhappy and now she laughs all the time. See you soon, Greg

Anonymous said...

Tonya, I just read this, how beautiful! I have similar memories, anytime I smell triple lanolin hand lotion Gramma always comes to mind. Sally