Last weekend, I went home to South Georgia to see my family. Between the pregnancy and postpartum period I haven’t made that trip in over a year. That is the longest I have ever gone without seeing my grandparents.
I grew up no further than 50 miles from my Dad’s parents. Our whole family went to the same church, my Uncle Bill’s church, actually. He ministered to a small congregation every Sunday for most of my childhood before he moved on to travel ministry. My other uncle and aunt were the music ministers, and the rest of our family always played some role in keeping the church alive. Every Sunday while my brother sat with our parents, I sat with my Grandmama. Either in her lap, or hip to hip; I was her shadow. During church she would scratch my back or pet my head until I fell asleep. She always had hard candy or Certs (remember those?) that she would so quietly try and unwrap before letting me have one. As a bored little girl in church, I would always ask her for a pen and paper to draw. She always had them. I would write her a note asking “What’s for dinner today?” she would write me back “Roast” or “Chicken”. I admired my Grandmama’s handwriting and the way she made little notes in her bible. Later in the service, I would reach over her and grab my Granddaddy’s wrist to see what time it was on his fancy watch. He always smelled like Halls cough drops and after shave.
Every week, after church, we would go to Grandmama’s to eat “dinner”. (It was actually lunch, but in the deep South it’s “Dinner” and “Supper”.) I always rode with my grandparents from church to their house. I would get in the back of their big ‘ole Grand Marquis with the navy interior and probably burn myself on on the metal ashtray on the door handle that had been basking in the sun all morning.
Grandmama would have been preparing our Sunday dinner early that morning and keeping it hot all morning by storing it in coolers. We would gather around and say the blessing and then enjoy a huge meal together. Every single Sunday.
I would have lived with my grandparents had my parents allowed it. I spent as much time as I could with them on school breaks and vacations. Some things never changed. There was always a trip to get new shoes or a new dress and always a cheeseburger from Dairy Queen. Every Spring, the perimeter of their back yard was a pink and white azalea backdrop. We climbed the magnolia tree in the back yard and carved our names into the trunk. We would come inside to get a candy bar from the floral candy tin that stayed stocked with full sized candy bars. At night when Granddaddy had gone to bed, Grandmama would stay up in the dark den and watch sermons on TV. I would sneak out of bed and get under the throw blanket with her. Then, early in the morning when it was still dark outside and Grandmama was still in her room, I would follow the light coming from the kitchen and meet my Granddaddy in there. He would be reading the paper and drinking coffee. I would sit with him and feel like we were the only people awake in the whole world.
My Granddaddy was just moved to an assisted living facility a few weeks ago. He is 93 now. My Grandmama just got released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia and for the first time ever, is on medication. She is 85.
For the first time in my life, they don’t seem immortal to me. When I was at their house last weekend, I found myself studying every detail of every inch of the house. Granddaddy’s recliner, where he has been parked doing crossword puzzles as long as I can remember, was vacant. His side table lamp was off. I thought to myself: this house won’t be in my life forever and the expiration will be sooner than later.
Sometime soon (relatively speaking), there will be no more candy tin, no more kitchen table chats, no more azaleas or magnolia tree. No more Sunday dinners or loud Christmas mornings with all the cousins. The end of an era is near and I feel like I am already beginning to grieve. It is so easy to take for granted the blessings our family has enjoyed for so many years with my grandparents as our kin keepers.
I am a memory addict. I am obsessed with trying to make sure I don’t forget the little moments. Maybe this is why I take so many pictures. I want every detail of that house to stay etched in my mind forever. It was the only place that was a constant throughout my entire life. I don’t know what will happen next or when. All I know is that I want to remember every minute of the joy my grandparents brought me.
I never want to forget the morning chats, the late night snuggles, the candy tin, or the azaleas.