A couple weeks ago, I got the chance to visit with my Grandma Ruth in Sedalia, MO. She’s 87 years old. I hadn’t seen her since 1995. I was 19 and she was 71. I wished I could’ve taken my family, but it didn’t work out that way. Either way, I was slightly nervous. Grandma and I had written and spoken only a few times these last 16 years and I rightly felt like less than a stellar grandson approaching her door.My memories of her painted a picture of a taller than average woman with glasses, reddish brown hair, a cigarette hanging easily between two nervous fingers. Her hugs a bit rigid, but her laugh generous. Upon our visits she would offer food and drink within reason of a woman on a small fixed income. Of course in the early days, the food was plentiful as family gatherings would include all three of my dad’s brothers, their respective, current families (lots of divorce in those days) and my mom, dad, sister and me. With more smoke than oxygen in the house, we’d all navigate through loud hugs and playful punches on the arm. The Edwards boys were salt of the earth people with stories of love and fight, success and failure, bound with the barbed wire of loyalty and blood. And there was Grandma Ruth, at the helm, worrying about how dinner would turn out and not afraid to quickly ask you what you needed in the kitchen, so she could turn you loose back outside, with the door shut so as to not lose the precious cool air generated by the hard-working AC unit in the back-room window.
After every visit I would pile into the car with my mom, dad and sister with the full knowledge that we’d done a bit of time travel. As we would leave Sedalia, my dad’s heightened Missouri accent would begin to descend back to normal. The buildings and roads that held a piece of my dad’s story would thin out, replaced by miles of trees and hills that led into Kansas where the pages of my story were being written.
And now here, as a 35 year old man, I chased that time machine down, pressed a familiar button and approached the carpeted steps of my Grandma’s house. The yard looked mostly familiar. The trees were bigger than I remember and the street smaller. I took a deep breath and knocked loudly knowing her hearing aid was hit or miss these days. A cute old woman with grayed hair and wire thin arms opened the door. We hugged and then she pulled back not letting go of me, and just looked at me for a bit. I stood still with, no doubt, a silly look on my face. I sensed that she was both filling in the gaps from the time gone by and taking a mental picture for when I was gone later that day.
Her house was nearly exactly as I had left it 16 years ago. The couches, the chair, the tv, the clocks and paintings on the wall all welcomed me back as if I’d gone to the store to get ice. The smell of cigarette smoke was long gone. Of that I was happy, and mostly for her. She offered me a drink and a seat on the couch of which I’d spent many hours, but of course with smaller and leaner frame.
And so we visited. And we ate. It was just us. Getting to know each other. We were familiar strangers eating, laughing and talking. We didn’t do much reminiscing. Our visits in years past were seldom about each other but everyone else. This was different though. She told me stories of the 40’s when she was first married to my grandfather. She spoke kindly of him. He passed away when I was still a baby. We spoke little of my two uncles, (her two sons) that she has outlived. Like I said, we didn’t really reminisce. As a 87 year old woman with a strong faith in God, she’s very aware of the weight and importance of the day at hand.
As our visit came to a close, she pulled me close again and told me how much she enjoyed the day with me and that she would see me in heaven. I pushed back a bit, not knowing how to respond, trying to promise that I would bring Alissa and boys to see her. I think she noticed my flinch and responded with how she wouldn’t be able to house us all overnight. I laughed softly and tried to picture her reaction to my chaotic family.
With a hug that had lost the rigidity from when I was little, she walked me to the door. I told her I loved her and walked out to my rental car wondering if I could get back here soon. I got in, rolled the window down and looked over to see her waving and smiling just before she closed the door. It felt like I should keep the car in park, or that she should keep the door open just a while longer, but I think we both knew the AC-unit was working hard to keep in that cool air.