I remember dancing through the warm summer grass, my heart singing a happy tune as I listened to my grandma chatter.
“I’m here with my pride and joy,” she said to the gravestone as she pulled at the weeds obscuring its face. “She reminds me a lot of you. Oh, how you would have loved her.”
Then she fell silent, and although I didn’t understand why, I knew she was sad. Quickly, I pulled a dandelion and danced over to where she was kneeling. I didn’t know what to say, so I just held it out to her.
“For me?” she said in a high falsetto. “Oh, thank you, honey.”
She hugged me tight and by the time she let go, her smile was back in place. And when I saw it, I knew all was right in the world again.
I cherished the time I spent with her. She taught me how to play war (the card game). She introduced me to the delicious concoction that is jello with a dollop of cool whip on top. She even taught me a little bit about what it meant to be a woman.
To this day, whenever I begin to dot foundation on my neck, I hear her say, “Always make sure your makeup goes all the way down to your collar. Otherwise you look unfinished.”
She wore dresses and heels, and her shoes always matched her purse. To a little girl still enamored with dress-up, her wardrobe was a dream come true.
Even then, I knew that her arrival made my mom anxious, and that she wasn’t always nice to her only daughter. But I was her Pride and Joy. The female grand baby (her only girl grandchild) that arrived a mere nine months after her husband’s death.
I could do no wrong.
But then I began to grow up. And I didn’t do so gracefully. Nope. I was chubby, had zits and braces, and an awkward sense of style to boot. I still preferred the dresses and skirts I’d worn as a young kid, but teens didn’t dress that way, so I never felt right in my clothes. Or looked right, really.
And when that happened? I began to feel the bite of her tongue.
Eventually, the hero worship faded. I began to resent her for the pain she brought to my mother. I spent less and less time with her, until, as an adult, our only contact was quarterly phone calls and an annual Christmas visit.
But that day in the graveyard stuck in my memory. I’ll never forget the way I felt that day. The way I loved that day.
A part of me never stopped loving her that way.
And so now, knowing she lies in a hospital bed, her body seemingly giving up, I can’t help but mourn for the life that’s not yet gone.
She’ll be 92 in the morning. She’s lived a long, full life. It’s understandable if she’s ready to leave this world.
But the little girl I was is crying inconsolably inside. She doesn’t want to let her go.
She was my very first hero.
I can’t quite imagine a world without her in it.
Photo credit: Charles Harvey, Flickr