My grandmother, Mary Edna, taught me about strength. One bright sunny morning, she moved from grandmother to something closer and more powerful.
The sun was pouring through the big upstairs windows at her house. Spending the night at grandmother and grandfather’s house, drinking hot chocolate for breakfast-that was the life-except that morning, grandmother accidently put coffee in my milk instead of cocoa.
“Can I live here forever?” I asked. I asked it every time. We were upstairs straightening the beds when the phone rang, you know the 1968 phone ring. Grandmother answered, handing me the phone to talk to my mom.
“Can I live here forever?” I remember asking.
“Yes,” she said.
Wow! Talk about getting what you wish for! It left me speechless. I remember wandering downstairs, onto the front porch, swinging. The milkman came, leaving two bottles of milk in the milk box.
Mom, my brother, and I moved in a few weeks later. Morning hot chocolates stopped. We weren’t just grandchildren anymore. We were something. . . more.
There were times when I wondered how my grandfather could love such a woman. The older I got, the more I understood. You need strength to push through tough times. You need strength to make meager times rich. You need strength to have hope.
She could be sharp, judgmental, and an adherent to Amy Vanderbilt’s Book of Etiquette. Despite that, she made me feel beautiful on the inside. That’s what mattered most to me—that’s where I wanted to be beautiful.
I learned as I grew into a young woman the need to stand up for what I believed. If I didn’t, she could just roll right over you.
It terrified me to stand up to her. She could wield the look. Most people would just give up at the look. I knew I couldn’t give up. If I did, I would lose . . . .me. So I would stand up to her. . . and when there was nothing left to do, then I would just stand.
She respected that.
I learned that if I could stand up to her, I could stand up to anybody or for anything. A lot of shoe quaking is involved. Sweaty palms, too. Followed sometimes by light-headed-ness, probably due to a lack of oxygen. Sometimes life requires moments like this. Moments where you can’t afford to stand down.
One day after my first son was born, we gathered in the family room, my grandmother, aunt, mom, and I. Everyone was enjoying the baby. I got up and turned the corner to the kitchen when I hit on a chair my very sensitive part of the shin, the part that makes you feel like you are dying.
I cursed. Then I inwardly cursed again when the family room went stone quiet. I never cursed. At least, not until I started driving, and then only when I was driving. Then I got married, and the battle increased. Then I had a baby. However, they respected how I struggled never to curse.
I had a reputation that with the split second shin hit was about to be torn to shreds. The silence screamed. I took a deep breath, and stuck my head around the corner, ready to take the lashing. There are times where it only takes one incident to destroy one’s reputation.
Everyone was looking at grandmother, the great matriarch, waiting for the verdict, the censure. My character failure would be recalled again and again. Just like the one time I opened a Christmas present early and rewrapped it. A criminal just can’t keep a secret; they have to brag. Stupid me! You’d think I had done it every Christmas.
My grandmother looked them square in the eye, and said, “My mother always said there was a time and place to curse. I believe you just found it.”
The conversation turned. Not a word was ever said about the incident again. She had secured my dignity.
I miss her every day! I used the strength she instilled in me every day. With a house full of sons to raise, they can’t ever see you sweat! Toppling into a puddle is just not an option—at least not in front of them.
It is hard balancing the two, a stick that won’t be broken and a gentle hand filled with compassion. I fail often; however, I cannot afford to give up. That dog-gone strength I built from standing up to her just won’t let me.
God replaced the loss of a father with a great gift—my grandmother who taught me to be strong.