If you’ve known my family for any length of time, you’ve most likely heard this story. When we were younger, every once in a while my sister and I would have sleepovers at my grandparents’ house. This was very exciting, because that meant we got to sleep on the canopy bed, or as we liked to call it, “the bed with the roof on it.” One evening in particular, I was being a little, shall we say, resistant to spending the night. Mimi did her best to try and coax me to stay. I couldn’t have been more than 5 at the time. “We’ll have hamburgers!” she said. Nope. “We’ll make popcorn and watch a movie!” Nope. “Ice cream!” They pretty much threw every kid’s dream at me, until I finally had had enough. “I don’t want hamburgers, I don’t want ice cream, and I don’t want to sleep on that bed with the roof on it!”
I can still hear her chuckle at the end of telling that story.
One time when she picked me up from preschool, I convinced her that it was okay for a friend to come home with me to her house. I mean, I thought it was okay. What else did we need? Being the days of word of mouth, she of course assumed I – an adorable and presumably trustworthy four-year-old – had cleared this with the appropriate parties. I learned a great lesson that day. One, bringing home random children from school is NOT okay. And two, my grandmother had the patience and grace of a saint.
She taught us manners with safety pin chains. She let me wrap my own Christmas presents in nondescript boxes. She tried to teach me how to crochet, but unfortunately, I was a lost cause. “Clean up as you go” is something I can still hear her saying as I notice my own habit of leaving every single dish and ingredient strewn haphazardly about while cooking.
Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of some kind of influence or impression she has left upon me. What would Mimi do? She would welcome everyone she could into her home and into her heart. She would prepare a meal for a sick neighbor or church friend. She would extend an invitation to a surly, introverted teenager to help her come decorate her Christmas tree. When I think about how I want my children and grandchildren to see me as they age, I could only hope that they have half the admiration and respect I hold for her.
In a poem from Helen Keller:
“What we have once enjoyed
we can never lose;
All that we love deeply,
becomes a part of us.”
Mimi will always be a part of me, her empathy, kindness, grace, and humility guiding me throughout my days. And while I miss her terribly, it brings me great comfort to know that she is surrounded my love up in heaven, watching over us.
For Mimi, you now sit upon the bed with the highest roof. And I hope to sit with you some day again.
• • • • •
I was honored to read the above words at my grandmother’s funeral. It was hard and sad. That evening as I nodded off to sleep, I would see her face and hear her voice, only to snap awake and find myself in a hotel room, Christian and his iPad the only others in the room.
The next day, my parents and sister offered to watch the kids while Christian and I stopped by to visit my grandfather before heading back to Austin. He’s still at the rehab center recuperating from a broken leg. The same rehab center where he once could wheel himself to the room next door and visit with his wife. I know the service was hard on him. He and my Mimi were kindred spirits – always together, physically and emotionally. It’s hard for me to envision one without the other.
After the service on Thursday, Christian and I had poured over an old scrapbook that had belonged to my grandfather’s older sister. We told him about some of the photos we saw: him in his military uniform around 1945 (age 20), early photos of him and my grandmother in the 50s, family photos of the two of them with my mother and uncle in the 60s. We jogged his memory, and he told us story after story from his life. How joined the Merchant Marines after he was turned away from the Navy due to asthma he later wished he had never admitted to. How he and my grandmother traveled by train to Louisiana on their honeymoon and got burned to a crisp on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain and had to endure a painful, single-berth train ride back to Dallas. How he sat in a parking lot in his patrol car on the day Kennedy was shot, listening to the entire ordeal unfold on the radio, the only on-duty Dallas Police Officer for miles, since almost everyone else was downtown looking for the shooter.
Before we knew it, two hours had flown by. His dinner had come. We needed to get on the road and find dinner for our own children. There wasn’t enough time.
“If you have anything you want to do,” he told us, “do it now. Time goes by fast. So fast.” And I wondered what it was like to have such a life to look back on, so many stories to tell. My grandfather has led a marvelous life. A significant part of it has ended, but he’s still here. I honestly don’t remember the last time we had this kind of opportunity to just sit and talk with him, not just surface conversations about the kids or life in Austin. We weren’t there for an obligatory check in. We were there to see him. And I hope he felt seen.
Because our elders, they need to be seen. Time goes by too fast. And they are still a part of us.
Thank you all for being here and reading my words. xoxo