A Mother's Day to Remember
By Marlene Depler
My husband kissed me good-bye at the gate. A few minutes later, the plane taxied down the runway, accelerating for take-off. The nose lifted. The plane soared skyward. I was going to Missouri to visit my grandmother. I settled back into my seat, closing my eyes. Soon memories of my childhood days at my grandparents washed over me like excerpts from a favorite book….
* * * *
I remembered hot, humid summer nights with chiggers, fireflies, and hide-and-go-seek with cousins. The calls of Bobwhites and Whippoorwills. Fishing holes, feeding chickens, and feeding my face with corn candy, grape soda pop, homemade ice cream, fresh blackberry cobbler, and dill pickles.
Grandma made the best dill pickles. I smiled as I thought of all the wrinkled, green pickles she had cut up over the years. She had always exercised such restraint as we walked through the kitchen snitching salty, sour spears from her dish. Never once did she scold us for our thievery. And somehow there where still enough pickles left to put on the dinner table.
* * * *
My plane landed, and I was greeted by my Uncle Bob. After retrieving my bag, we drove through the rolling hills towards Grandma’s place. We shared news of family and common friends interspersed with moments of silence. I looked out the window at the passing countryside. The landscape struck cords of familiarity. My history was rooted in this place. Even so, I realized this was no longer home.
My anticipation heightened as we turned down the dirt road that ran in front of Grandma's country home. In that moment, I felt exactly like I did as a child every time our car turned down this road. But then I wondered if I was prepared for my grandmother's physical condition. I hadn't seen her in several years. I wondered if she would be frail and reminded myself to be realistic. After all, she was 98 years old!
When we turned into the driveway, Grandma was not at the door, coming out to greet us, as had been customary in days gone by. Instead, I could see her sitting by the window. From there she could view the road, her rose garden, the weeping birch tree, the mail box, and the three-room, dilapidated house across the road—the house where she had raised her family.
We entered. Grandma’s eyes lit up and a smile crossed her wrinkled face.
"My, my, Marlene. I’m glad you could come," she said. "It’s so good to see you. Come on in."
I walked across the room and bent down to hug and kiss her. How warm, comfortable, and familiar it felt to be there with her!
"You can put your things in the front bedroom," she said as I stood back up.
After putting my suitcase in the bedroom, I came back in the living room and sat down in the chair across from her. Grandma asked about my husband and each of my children by name.
How did she keep track of all the great-grandchildren? I wondered.
From her ten grown children, she now had seventeen grandchildren, and a host of great-grandchildren. Her mental sharpness amazed me. I pulled out some recent photos of my children to show her.
As suppertime neared, I went to the kitchen to give Aunt Winnie a hand. Winnie tried to shoo me out, but I insisted that she could use a little help. She relented, and allowed me to set the table. We were all soon sitting down to fried ham and potatoes with green beans and coleslaw. Food here was always on the simple side, yet delicious.
"What would you like for Mother's Day dinner tomorrow?" my uncle asked Grandma.
Without hesitation, Grandma replied, "I would enjoy fried catfish, salad made from the fresh greens in the garden, and fried apples."
With no further discussion, the menu for the next day's dinner had been decided. We could easily meet her simple requests.
After we had eaten, I helped clear the table, and volunteered as dishwasher. I started running hot, soapy water when I noticed something small, round, and white on the shelf by the sink. I shut the water off and picked it up and smiled. It was the sand dollar I had given Grandma when I was about eight years old. She had kept it all these years!
When I was a child, my family lived on the Oregon coast for a few years. During that time, I had only found one perfect sand dollar—the one I had given Grandma. Now, here it was sitting on her shelf nearly thirty years later. No wonder, I always felt important to my grandmother.
After supper, we chatted a while before Grandma went to bed. It was the kind of conversation that would have bored anyone who wasn't family. Later that night as I crawled beneath the quilt on the twin bed, I felt such a sense of belonging, and yet my thoughts were of my little family back home. Somewhere in the midst of my prayers for them, I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke to the smell of bacon and biscuits. I opened my eyes. Then I remembered where I was. When I was a child, I loved to wake up at Grandma's house.
It was Sunday morning. Grandma was no longer able to go to the country church where she had attended for over a half century. We all decided to stay home with her on this Mother's Day. It felt a bit strange, since it had long been a part of my Sunday routine to attend church. However, for today, I knew it was the right choice.
After breakfast, I went for a walk. As I stepped outside, a single robin and the gentle warmth of a spring morning greeted me. I sauntered down the dirt road for a mile or so, then turned and started back. When I got near to the house, I turned to the opposite side of the road and walked toward the now abandoned house that for years had been brimming with family life. This is where Grandma and Grandpa had raised their family with no electricity and no running water. (Even after they got electricity, Grandma still insisted on cooking on her wood cook-stove.)
I remembered the hollyhocks that had bloomed by the front gate and hot summer evenings on the front porch, listening to the grown-ups talk of yesteryear. I thought of the old dog, Rex, who always joined us for hide-and-seek. I walked around to the back. The outhouse was now gone. I doubted that anyone missed it!
The deserted chicken house and the old barn were still standing. I remembered feeding chickens, gathering eggs, and playing in the hay. Old rusty, antiquated pieces of farm machinery were still sitting in the exact places they had been when I was a child.
I wandered into the old orchard where I thought, remembered, and prayed with a heart overflowing with gratitude. Several blackbirds in the old peach and apple trees joined with me to form a worship choir that Sunday morning.
Something compelled me to sing aloud a melody of praise, so I lifted my head toward the sky and sang:
In moments like these,
I sing out a song,
I sing out a love song
And so out of character for me, I lifted my hands to the heavens as I sang. I found my own sanctuary in the orchard of gnarled trees that May morning. I was reminded that worship of God is not confined to buildings made of stone and wood. Refreshed both in body and spirit, I headed back across the road.
Grandma was dressed and sitting in her chair by the window. Her hands were folded in her lap, holding a flowered handkerchief. The index finger on her left hand was missing. A long time ago she had told me how she lost it. Now I couldn't remember what had happened.
Grandma wore a navy blue dress. I had never seen my grandma in anything but a dress all the years I had known her. My eyes rested on her face and hair.
For most of her life, she had worn her long hair pulled up in a bun. When I was young, she would sit patiently while I brushed it and pretended to style it. I loved running my fingers through her salt and pepper hair while we talked. Now her hair was short and "permed"—still not totally gray.
"You've been out for a walk, have you?" she said. "Nice morning."
I knew how much she missed being able to go outside to putter in the garden or inspect the freshest flower blooms. Yet she did not complain.
I sat down across from her, and we conversed about things past and present. She recited a poem that she had learned when she was a girl.
How could she remember something from so long ago? I asked myself.
“Shall we sing?” Grandma asked.
Then she began singing one of her favorite hymns, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I joined in singing the alto. The harmony shared between us was more in heart and spirit than in sound, but neither one of us cared.
Soon I smelled the catfish frying, mixed with the scent of apples, sugar, and cinnamon caramelizing in butter. I went to the kitchen to join in the preparation. We were soon gathered round the table with Grandma, joining hands for the blessing.
The rest of the day was a smorgasbord of hellos, hugs, laughter, and good-byes as other family members—aunts, uncles, and cousins with their children—came and went on this special day. My husband and children called to wish me a happy Mother's Day.
Before I knew it, I was settled in bed once again filled with joy from the blessings of the day, yet keenly aware that tomorrow morning I would be leaving. I wanted to stay, and yet I wanted to go. I missed my family.
Morning came and with it the good-byes. As Grandma and I hugged, she whispered, "Sure glad you could come."
I turned to leave as she wiped a tear. Then I wiped my own. We pulled out of the driveway with Grandma waving from the front window. Somehow I sensed I would never see her again. I felt both joy and sadness at the same moment. I couldn't explain it.
As we drove away, I reflected on Grandma's life. She had experienced her share of sadness, suffering, pain, and poverty. Three babies had died as infants. Her son, Alvin, was killed in Germany during World War II. I cringed as I thought of the pain and heartache she had endured. Yet there was something about Grandma—she was strong and resilient. She loved her family, her garden, and definitely her God. Grandma loved life!
As her granddaughter, a part of her flowed through my veins. Could I, too, find that same strength? I felt strangely connected to the generations of women who had come before me, as well as those who would follow. We were one continuous golden cord bound together in both our joy and sorrow. Grandma had given me a legacy—a legacy of a simple, sustaining faith intertwined with love of family. I could ask for no greater inheritance than this.
* * * *
That October we buried Grandma in the old country cemetery beside Grandpa, Alvin, and her babies. Elsie Lorene Boyce Herndon.
(c) Marlene Depler