If she was five feet tall I'd have been surprised.
The photo is black and white, wrinkled and worn around the edges. She is young here. She looks at the camera with what can only be described as defiance.
She's my grandmother.
My grandfather is beside her with his arm slung around her shoulders, hat slightly askew and his lanky 6 foot 2 frame dwarfs her.
In May of this year, she'll have been gone 10 years.
My other grandmother, my mom's mother, passed away in December of that year. It's crazy how much time can pass before you realize the importance of what you've lost.
I look back at the woman in the photograph and for the umpteenth time bemoan the fact that I really never knew her. At least, not the way I wanted to.
Family legend has it that back when they were young, my grandfather liked his beer and she could out cuss a sailor.
I'm not sure if those are facts I should be proud of, but they are interesting. They give a little depth to a woman who came late in life to Jesus and spent the years that remained trying so hard to live up to what she thought it meant to be "Christian."
Rigid, Southern Baptist fundamentalism? Check.
Sunday afternoon "fellowship" at the local buffet? Check.
"Witnessing" to two young female sunbathers that they were "headed to hell" if they didn't get their acts straight? Check, check. (True story. The young girls were my mom's sisters. They still tell that story to this day.)
She was a complicated woman with an entire luggage set of issues. My cousin nicknamed her Sweet Roll. I've never asked him why, but I'm pretty sure it was partly playful tongue in cheek and partly desperate prayer.
She could be cruel. But she could also be outrageously generous and fun.
The pieces of her life that made her who and what she was are shrouded in mystery. The knowledge that she had lost both of her parents by age sixteen coupled with the fact that she rarely if ever talked about her childhood helped her children and grandchildren to understand that her life had not been a Norman Rockwell painting.
At a very young age all the grandkids knew she was broken in some way because she couldn't accept love, even from us…the ones who got the best parts of her, unless it was on her terms.
She did not love perfectly. And in my childishness…I harbored a grudge against her for that.
Because I am so very like her.
She didn't love me on MY terms…with easy hugs and quick affection. Her way was more to drag me down to Miller's department store and buy me a new dress. Every time she took me shopping she was screaming in her broken way, "I love you. I have no way to communicate that with you other than this…but please, please, please know I love you and I want you to love me too."
And now, finally, I get it. As damaged and hard as she was, every little step she took in my direction is worthy of my respect and gratitude. Because love, no matter how it comes to us, is something to be grateful for.
Sweet Roll, it's taken me nearly ten years, but I think now I can finally put you to rest.
I love you.
Thank you for loving me. Forgive me for not seeing? Someday, we'll sit down face to face and laugh and cry and hug and love without fear. Thank you for all your prayers, for taking me to church and for using what little faith you had to point me to Jesus. I miss that beautiful, clear soprano voice, those cornflower eyes (I think Jessica got those…dang her) and trips to Duff's Smorgasbord because "Doe, Shayne's hungry."
I'm a Mimi now and I'm sure you've seen more than a few of my goof-ups and laughed and said, "Not so easy is it?" Uh, no. No ma'am it's not.
The dogwoods and the redbuds are blooming and I always think of you best during this time of year. You live in the best memories of my heart, where Spring is eternal and full of promise.
You are loved and you are not forgotten. It's ok that you weren't perfect…because newsflash…I'm not perfect either.
You were good though…in your own way…you were good. And now, all these years later, I can appreciate how hard you tried.
Dear God, isn't it about time?