Right before Thanksgiving, Mama told me she had loved my grandmother well. Not merely a lot, but well. “I cried at her funeral, but I didn’t break down,” she said. “I knew I had done everything I could for her while she was alive.”
Now, I know how much she misses my grandma. Barely a day goes by that Mama doesn’t talk about something my grandma did or said, or how Brown Sugar smiles like her, and Lone Ranger “looks like her people.” Mama keeps up my grandparents’ gravesites, much as Elisabeth tended to her husband’s in my novel, A Long Time Comin’. She may not be the kind to weep and wail, but Mama’s love runs deep and wide like the roots of the trees in my backyard.
And like those roots when parts poke from the ground, her words tripped me up. I must confess I didn’t cherish those years with my grandmothers as much as I should have; I took them for granted, the way my little people let lazy summer evenings slip through their fingers. I didn’t hold close my time with them until it was nearly time to let them go.
As a child, I cried during sleepovers, forcing Mama to drive over at midnight to pick me up, if I made it that long. Sometimes my visits during my college years happened after Daddy prodded, “Did you visit your grandma?” because I fancied myself too busy with friends, days at home too few. I always planned to go by “the next time.” Later, as my grandmothers held Crusader, their great-grandchild, I realized all I had let go by me. So no, my tears didn’t gently roll down my cheeks at their funerals; they were fat, mournful drops that plopped on my chest, heavy with regret for time lost, not invested.
Sometimes, there’s only the last time, not a next time.
Yes, I loved my grandparents. I laughed with my sisters and my cousins while we watched soap operas in front of Grandma Vi’s television. I poked around in Grandma Hallie’s jewelry boxes when she was of the mind to let us. I peeked at the snake in the tank in Grandpa Shaler’s basement and shrugged whenever he told me, “You talk like a little white guhl.” I said my grace over their cake, cabbage, and cornbread unaware that it was Grandma Vi’s prayers and Grandma Hallie’s gospel music that truly fed me. They loved me well.
That love wasn’t just a feeling they had. It was a seed, like the acorns that thunk to the ground. They nurtured that love with what they did, said, and planted, the way those acorns would’ve embedded themselves in the soil if TD hadn’t picked them up. The willing, faithful, and gracious love they passed on to their children and to their children’s children is why my own little people can tell you, “This smells like Grandma’s house!” when a familiar whiff floats up from somewhere or other. Why they can shake their heads and warn, “Watch out for Papa. He’s quiet but he’s deadly at board games.” Why they know they can fly through our house but they’d best creep at Grandpa’s. Why they don’t whistle within a mile of Emmy’s front door and they sit like the dead in her car.
All my grandparents’ seeds are bearing fruit in the stories I tell of the stories they lived. And I hope I do right by them. The right I didn’t have the sense to do when I had the chance. The right I try to do by the people in my life—not solely those who have gone before, but those who yet remain, stubborn and determined to do just as they please. The right Jesus intends us to do when He commands us, “…love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
I pray you do the same, loving the ones you’re with and who are still with you. Sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, friends, parents, cousins. Share and bless and thank and help and scold and forgive and feed and sow, throwing your whole self into the good work that love calls you to do, even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. Love so well that one day, if and when you weep, it’s not solely for what you miss, but for what you remember, and your tears are preparing your heart for future planting.
“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” John 9:4