39. Things I Can Deliver: Her Eulogy

The girl who climbed trees in Durant, Oklahoma, ignoring as long as possible the suggestion that this activity may be less than ladylike, she was long grown by the time I came around. But I caught a glimpse of her when she and Dick outfitted that van for the open road, and she scrambled over hillsides all around this country collecting gems and geodes.
 
The college graduate who came to Dallas and strode through downtown with her girlfriends, in awe of the fashions at A. Harris and the big city bustle? She was a distant memory by the time I was old enough to have joined her on those walks. But a glimmer of her appeared when she’d stroll through the aisles at Neiman’s on the way to the Zodiac Room, pausing to stroke the beaded silk and saying, “Oh, just imagine the places we could wear this!”
 
I wish I could have met the young woman who whirled around the USO with her flyboy, but she showed up at the bridge table, and stocked her cabinets with board games and playing cards, and let us flounce through the house in the puffed sleeves and petticoats of her square dance dresses, and opened her treasure boxes to gild our necks and arms with costume jewels.
 
That girl who’d let her big sister Cecil take the spot as Mima’s culinary apprentice while she herself was skinning her knees climbing all those trees? When she became a young Navy wife and realized she’d actually have to cook for that husband of hers, it would have been a kick to see her rooting through the barrel at the PX and choosing a nickel edition of Fannie Farmer and stumbling through her first pot roast. But I saw a bit of her when she cranked a whole orange through the grinder for cranberry salad, and tossed just the right splash of ice water across the flour for pie crust.
 
I could have learned a lot from the dedicated young mother who cared for those five babies while setting up house and community in Hawaii, Maine, Florida. But she appeared in front of me when, at 86 years old, she got right down on the floor and played with her infant great-grandson.
 
I wish I could have held the hand of the young widow with two of her children still in school, who took the searing tragedy of losing a husband and transformed it into the courage to up and move to Germany. But I did see her seek adventure in the everyday, driving all the way down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market on a Saturday to marvel at the cantaloupes and east Texas tomatoes, lifting them to her nose and wowing at the fragrance, the warmth, as if each was the first she’d ever held. I saw her boldly stay open to the world even as her body set its own limits. Walking the pool, gabbing with friends; accepting every invitation to travel; serving families in need through her volunteer work; consuming the Dallas Morning News every day; and meandering all the way through each new issue of National Geographic.
 
Mardy was Gramma Mardy by the time I came along. She would sit with me in the breakfast nook and drink her tea. But she was so much more than a tea-drinking, nook-sitting gramma. We’re working the crossword together, digging through the dictionary, patching together word origins and giggling at the rickety bridges strung between the gaps in our knowledge. She wants to learn it all. Then the puzzle is done and she’s reading the headlines out loud and punctuating them with fiery commentary about this senator or that scandal. Then she’s up feeding birds whose habits and classifications she is eager to grasp. Then she’s skimming the arts page for a gallery or a foreign film.
 
Then, invariably, the people come.
 
The phone rings and it’s one of lunch ladies. Rick and the kids stroll up the patio waving. The doorbell rings, and Nelda is there with a question.
 
Gramma invites them in. Curious, affable, delighting in whatever is going on in their worlds, she offers a chair and questions, and soon they’re re-drawing the blueprint of old neighborhoods on the map of their collective memory. Where did Sleepy Reese end up? Did the neighbors actually lay that driveway on Daddy’s property? Which year did Eddie Dominguez graduate? Oh, and what about old What’s-his-Name? Then we’re laughing and hollering, trying to reach consensus, and barring that, nudging the discussion into more agreeable territory. Soon someone’s going to pick up Dickey’s barbeque or getting suited up for the pool or arranging for church then lunch then a trip to Durant. And all of this activity just blooms up from the mere act of being in Gramma Mardy’s house.
 
I say I wish I could have known the girl, the young wife, the mother. But maybe I did know her. All those glimpses had stories behind them, and the stories were right there, still very much alive, ready for me to weave into my own. I knew a much fuller version of my Gramma because people called and came to the door knowing they’d be invited in. Made comfortable. Asked to share.
 
Witnessing and learning about the lives of her loved ones – that was Mardy’s way. She cultivated openness, welcome, HOME. Everyone who was part of Mardy’s circle knew they’d have a place where they could come and where they could belong. Cherino, Crestover, Allencrest, Hideaway. She opened the doors to Paul, Lissa, Brin, John and Nancy, Rick and Carrie, Jamin, me. Giving all of us at one point or another a waystation and a launch pad, or just a place to catch our breath. And the other grandkids – Jonathan and Jennifer, Brendan, Dylan, Sadie too – all of us knew that Gramma’s home was ours.
 
This is not an accident. This is a way – Gramma Mardy’s way – unique and extraordinary. And because all of these generations of friends and kin have sat at her breakfast table laughing and arguing and telling the stories, I met that red dirt girl who became the kind of woman I hope to someday be.
 
It breaks my heart that my Gramma didn’t make it out to Virginia to stay in the condo I bought two summer ago – the first home of my own. It would have been so nice to share my table with her for once. I spent the first year there guarded and shell-shocked, protecting my solitude, my hackles up against the obligations attached to membership in a community.
 
But this year, as Gramma’s health declined, it’s almost as if some fragment of her spirit rode the currents over 1500 miles and took root in me. I’ve finally started to look up and become friends with my neighbors. To host parties even when my house is a mess. To follow my son when he jets off with his buddies, and go meet their parents and siblings.
 
Maybe that woman I only caught in glimpses over 41 years waited for me to grow up enough to meet her, fully formed, as the curious, vibrant, tough, and tender person she always was.
 
I am lucky – in fact, we all are so lucky – to have been on the receiving end of her love. She’s here in that love, in me – in us – every time we open the door and invite someone in.
 

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3 thoughts on “39. Things I Can Deliver: Her Eulogy”

  1. Every two years he traded them in (“As soon
    as the ashtrays get full,” he said with good humor);
    always a sedate four-door sedan, always a Buick,
    always dark as the inside of a tomb.

    Then one spring Grandfather took off to trade,
    returned, parked proudly in the driveway.
    “Shave-and-a-haircut, two bits!” blared the horn.
    Grandmother emerged from the kitchen into day-

    light, couldn’t believe her eyes. Grandfather sat
    behind the wheel of a tomato-red Lincoln
    convertible, the top down. “Shave-and-a-haircut,
    two bits!” “Roscoe, whatever are you thinking?”

    she cried. Back into the kitchen she flew.
    No matter how many times he leaned on that horn,
    she wouldn’t return. So he went inside,
    found her decapitating strawberries with scorn.

    “Katie, what’s wrong with that automobile?
    All my life I’ve wanted something sporty.”
    He stood there wearing his Montgomery Ward
    brown suit and saddle shoes. His face was warty.

    She wiped her hands along her apron,
    said words that cut like a band saw:
    “What ails you? They’ll think you’ve turned fool!
    All our friends are dying like flies-all!

    You can’t drive that thing in a funeral procession.”
    He knew she was right. He gave her one baleful
    look, left, and returned in possession
    of a four-door Dodge, black, practical as nails.

    Grandfather hated that car until the day he died.

    “Grandfather’s Cars” by Robert Phillips

  2. I love that you comment through the words of poets. What I write seems so much my own until I read these words. They tell the parallel story, rich and raw, and when I return to my own experience, I find something bigger than myself.

    1. ah for better or worse how my mind works, see something moving like yer post and it reminds me of something else and a pleasure to be able to bring them together outside of my noggin.
      if i could write like you do who knows…

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