Archive for September 17th, 2006


more about the lady

September 17, 2006

Early in 1998, I was in the middle of a monumentally unsuccessful stint as a newly-educated “young Professional” in Winston-Salem, making just enough working in an office in the back of a cotton warehouse to handle rent and every other college loan payment. By March, the Bradford Pears were blooming and my truck would stalle very time it rained and so I called home like the proverbial prodigal son and announced that I was moving back to Rabbit Hill, taking up residence in the renovated tobacco barn across my grandma’s back yard.

I gave my notice at the cotton warehouse in Cornatzer, and my boss at the time, a really wonderful man named Darryl who I can say definitively is the nicest man in textiles, got his bosses to approve a pretty sweet deal for me: full-time, salary in the mid-20’s, and he knew some locals who had a spare room within walking distance of the warehouse. It would have been my first real foothold in the working world of textiles.

I turned him down. It had rained all winter, I was tired of living in a cookie-cutter apartment in a gray part of town. But more immediately, when Darryl made the offer, I knew I couldn’t accept because I’d already told Grandma I was coming home.

I don’t think I knew her very well until then. I was twenty-three and a little bit lost. I bought a hammock and scoured my ragged copy of Walden again on the back porch of that old barn in the evenings, and Grandma cooked pork chops and fried corn bread and I sat at her table and ate them and read the local newspaper. There was always someone in the obituary she knew or that we were related to, and some story to go along with it. I kept a running commentary on every article while she moved slowly around the kitchen or just sat in her chair and watched me eat.

She liked to watch me eat, and she liked to watch me work. She’d watch me mow the grass sometimes, sitting in the porch swing in the evening. I stayed for almost three years, left for three more, and I’ve been back two. Always temporary.

A few weeks ago, newly returned from her second-to-last stint int he hospital, she had her caretaker Mary E. push her wheelchair to the back door so she could watch me again, laboring behind that same old push mower. I watched her body in a slow decline for the better part of a decade, and when I cried for her it was usually with the mower running.

But I laughed with her more than I cried for her, and even now in the wake of her death, she makes me laugh.

Just a few days before she died, a baptist minister and family friend came to visit. Grandma was in the middle of a blood tansfusion and they wouldn’t let her get out of bed. Grandma was complaining to my aunt that she needed help getting up to go to the bathroom. The preacher came in and took her hand and said “Miss Lena Jane, can I pray with you?” Grandma said yes, and so the preacher leaned in close and asked, “What would you like us to pray for? Healing?” Grandma shook her head. “No, she said. “Let’s pray that someone in my family will help me up out of this bed so that I can use the toilet.”


In Jesus name we pray.