Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Funeral in a Small Town, Part I: "Nanny"

I have witnessed a life coming to a close. Not the sudden violent parting of body and being, but the slow leave taking that occurs when a human being simply wears out. Like a candle that burns brightly until there is nothing left, flickers valiantly, then simply winks out; the smoky plume of it’s life force curling heavenward.

My husband's grandmother was 89 years old and lived a long, full life. She was born in 1916, and died on July 25th, 2006, in her sleep, with one of her beloved daughters snuggled against her, just the way they did when her children were small. So many nights she stood vigil at one bedside or another; through fever, nightmares, heartache and hunger…this time they stood watch over her, even knowing they could not protect her as she protected them. 9 children, six boys and three girls, took turns waiting for the end, not wanting her to be alone when at last she was called home.

She was ready. Though her mind was still sharp and her blue eyes still twinkled with life, her body was ready to lie down for eternal rest. Though diminutive in stature, with all the substance of a sparrow, she was fiercely independent, capable and strong, even into her late eighties. Her dignity was affronted by the dependence and frailty that eventually confined her to her antique four poster bed; the one in which gave life, and the one in which she left it behind.

She was a woman of strong faith and she was one of the very few Christians I have known who lived as she believed. She was ready to go to Glory. She did not fear death, but welcomed it. For her it was not an end, but a beginning. As one who fears the finality of death and is stricken with terror at the thought of lying in a cold and lonely grave, her conviction was an awesome and beautiful thing. As I stood at her bedside gazing at the frail form nearly obscured by bedclothes, I thought that I would give up my youth and my vitality for just a fraction of her faith, or a tiny morsel of her peace.

I knew her for 14 years, but I did not get many opportunities to talk to her one on one. With 9 children, 22 grandchildren, 35 great grandchildren, and 3 great-great grandchildren, her time and attention were precious commodities. We usually only saw her at family gatherings, where numerous people clamored for her a seat next to her. I didn’t feel right about taking time away from anyone who loved her and so, I usually just sat back and listened. Mostly, she did the same, smiling and nodding as her family filled her in on the goings on in their lives.

There were rare occasions however when I was able to talk with her intimately. She saw a lot in her 89 years, and it was amazing to listen to her stories. She told me about her baby sister who died when she was 9 years old. Eighty years later it still brought tears to her eyes and a catch to her voice as she recalled it for me.

She said "I can still her crying. ‘Oh ma poor little hayed. It hurts fit to split Sissy’. Mama gave her some lixir (elixir) but it didn’t help none. The next day she died, and we had to burry her right quick. It was the meningitis, but we didn’t know no better back then."

She also recalled the first time she wore pants, and how she worried over what Ennis (her husband) would think. She was married in a time when the man ruled over the household, so despite her independent nature, she deferred to him in all things. She fretted that Ennis would be angry, but all he said was "Just remember that attire ain’t fittin for church." Ennis died before I met my husband, but their relationship was fascinating to me, because her submissiveness to him was so strikingly at odds with her strongly autonomous character. Once when asked why she had so many children, she replied "Why Lord a mighty child, a body just didn’t tell your Daddy no." But this was said with a funny little self-deprecating smile that led you to wonder just whose idea it really was.

She was the only one who never said anything critical about me nursing my children, or my views on childbirth. She told me how she birthed her first 6 babies at home in her own bed, attended by her own mother and aunts. She smiled as she described feeling safe and comfortable in her own bed with her baby at her side. But a grimace twisted her piquant little face as she described the first time she gave birth in a hospital. "It weren’t no kind of place to be havin’ a baby." she said with emphatic distaste. This was said in support of my pursuit of doulaism, which might as well have been Satanism, so reviled and misunderstood was it by the women of that small rural town. She was letting me know that she understood and agreed that sometimes, the old ways are best. Her small, but potent expression of support stopped the comments and I never again had to defend my views or listen to imprecations about "titty-babies" or "hodang feminists".

Perhaps the most valuable to me where the stories she told about Husband growing up. She would laugh as she described his exceedingly mischievous ways, remembering how she had to whup him for this or that and how he would refuse to cry. He was the only one who was not contrite when she or Ennis had to discipline him. The other cousins would hang their heads in shame at having been naughty for Nanny and Papa, but not husband. He would glare at her with defiance in his eyes, little hands balled into fists at his sides. She would gaze upon my son, my spirited child, as she spoke and then pat my hand in understanding. "That boy is Husband made over" she would say fondly, but with a note of sympathy in her voice. That comforted me more than she could ever know because I felt that she understood the struggles I faced with my stubborn, argumentative, determined child. She also said, "I reckon husband turned out alright." and that was her way of assuring me that one day the struggles would be over, and Diminutive one would eventually become a kind, well-adjusted and productive adult. I loved her for that.

When I think of all the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime, I am infinitely sad that I didn’t get to talk to her more. I should have made a point. I should have let the children run wild and the dishes soak in the sink and the floor remain unswept to spend more time talking to that amazing, intelligent, god-fearing and kind-hearted woman.

She lived through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the War on Terror. She lived through the Great Depression. She saw all the Kennedys assassinated. She watched Nixon resign on live television. She watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon the month before I was born. She saw the invention of television and then watch it evolve from black and white to color to flat screen high definition wonder. She witnessed the death of Segregation and the birth of Women’s Lib. She watched her mother, crying with jubilation and pride, vote for the first time.

She watched her family grow from one to hundreds. The pride she must have felt when we gathered each look out into a sea of hundreds of people and know that they are there because they love you. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying. Her children and grandchildren are a diverse lot. There are preachers and teachers and policemen and nurses. There are alcoholics and thieves and wife beaters. After all, a person can't plant a garden that size without a few bad seeds turning up. But she loved them all without limit or condition. She didn’t expect perfection, she only prayed that one day, those who were lost would be found.

She had a heart attack two months ago. Everyone knew it was the beginning of the end. And though her death was expected, and folks sat on pins and needles for months waiting for the news, the shock wave that coursed through the family at her passing was powerful and destructive. The outpouring of grief was at once upsetting and awe inspiring. She was so very loved.

I visited her shortly before she died. Her beautiful white hair spilled across the pillow as luxuriant as ever, and her blue eyes twinkled just as brightly. But her body was painfully frail, and her will to fight was gone. She wanted to see her beloved Ennis. She wanted to at last look upon the face of the God she had worshipped for so long. She wanted to go home.

The last thing she said to me with a wan little smile was "You tell them boys to behave". She told husband "I love you." He clung to her, knowing it was probably the last time he would embrace her tiny little form.

The call came at 4:00 am Tuesday morning. I had to wake husband and tell him that his beloved Nanny was gone. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it was nothing compared to what would come in the days ahead.

To be continued…..


  • At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh my BA! I couldn't even blink. You are such an astute observer and story teller. The opening paragraph was a painting. Nanny reminds me of my husband's granny -a spine of steel and a heart of gold. Seems like they don't make'em like that anymore. Can't wait for chapter 2.

  • At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My "Mom-Mom" died a little over 2 years ago. She was 87. I get it. You have no idea. I do not usually tout my own posts, and only have a short one about her, but if you want to read it, it's I in no way mean to compare --- your story telling and emotion in your writing takes my breath away. But I guess I just feel a little more connected thru your post.

  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said…

    I'm so sorry for your family's loss. But what a wonderful tribute to that amazing woman this is! I don't think I took a breath until the end. So beautiful.

  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger Karyn said…

    Exquisite and painfully relatable.

  • At 12:53 PM, Blogger Me said…

    You have painted such a picture with your tribute that you have once again brought me to tears. I'm sorry for your family's loss.

  • At 1:28 PM, Blogger Mom101 said…

    Incredible woman, incredibly told. I feel like I knew her, finding myself weepy over a stranger's passing. You have outdone yourself BA, and she seems worthy of the honor.

  • At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Such a powerful story. You are a brilliant writer, and your husband's grandmother sounds like one of a kind. Breathlessly anticipating the next entry...

  • At 11:49 AM, Blogger Kara said…

    all I can say is... wow.

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Ms. Smoochy said…

    This is stellar and captivating writing. I had such a clear picture of my mind's eye of this woman and I want to know more (so I jubilantly off to read part two!) I especially loved, "After all, a person can't plant a garden that size without a few bad seeds turning up." What a wonderful way to put it. I have seen that very phenomena in several large families, but you have made me think about it in a new light. This whole piece is charming.

  • At 2:51 AM, Blogger Girl About Town said…

    What a beautiful tribute to a special lady. Your portrayal of her reminds me of my own Nanna, who passed away at 96. She was a lady small in stature, and frail at the end too, with white hair and baby blue eyes - but a lady with a nerve of steel. Like your husband's Nanny, she survived so much - they really were a different breed back then, weren't they? Really enjoyed reading this.

  • At 11:25 AM, Blogger Shalee said…

    That is a Proverbs 31 woman: her children (and grandchildren) will rise up and call her blessed.

    Thank you so much for sharing this incredible soul with us. To be filled with such peace and joy truly is a blessed life to have and to witness.

    So looking forward to the continuation of such a beautifully penned display of love.

  • At 1:56 PM, Blogger Bea said…

    Thank you for introducing us to such a complex, interesting woman. Such a very great loss indeed.

  • At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is just beautiful writing. I think what hit me most was the way you captured her speaking style. This is disappearing in our elders and I, too, captured -- on tape in and in writing, the dialect of the grandmothers.

    What a beautiful piece, deserving of a perfect post, for sure.

  • At 2:00 PM, Blogger Waya said…

    Wow! That was beautifully written. I can see how special your Nanny was. I too had the pleasure to know my maternal grandmother. She was an incredible woman til the day she passed on 2 years ago. I wrote about her in an entrance essay to college. And I did get accepted, probably b/c of her "doing".

  • At 3:43 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Chrisitia, She was truly an amazing woman with never a bad thing to say. I had the pleasure of knowing her for most of my life and even to this day I think about her everyday and miss her greatly. I have often siad that she was the real deal and ther will never be another like her. She saw the imperfections in people including her children but was the type of woman to look past those inperfections and see the good that was buried deep. That is what made her so special. I want to commend you on your capture of her and thank you for writing this. love always.... J


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