Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Grandest Grandmother

Just unwrapping a Hershey’s candy kiss reminds me of her. Peeling away that crisp foil wrapper and the sweet smell of chocolate sends me rushing back to the days of my childhood and the days spent with my grandmother.

We call her Mama (pronounced Maw-Maw). She is a petite, white-haired woman with blue eyes that sparkle like diamonds. I have never known her to sit down to rest or send anyone away from her home hungry. There are many people who have touched my life over the years, but none quite like Mama.

Mama began taking care of me just shy of my first birthday when my mother went back to work. Being at Mama’s was like being nowhere else. It always smelled so good in her house. There were always Oreo cookies in her cookie jar; Hershey’s kisses in the candy dish and the best mayonnaise sandwiches in the world!

Grandmothers don’t often recognize the faults of their grandchildren and if Mama ever recognized mine, she never let on. She catered to my finicky eating habits and always made my favorite foods when we came to dinner. Friday nights we always had dinner at Mama’s. She prepared little fried chicken legs just for me and served me on a child-sized salad plate in her Desert Rose dishes. She always had Green Goddess salad dressing and the best desserts you could imagine. Mama made dinnertime special.

As I grew older, I would skip next door to Mama’s and ring the bell. As I opened the door to greet her, she would always say, “Lift the latch and come on in.” Never were there words that sounded so sweet. She would whip up a little snack like butter and crackers or Oreos and milk. Mama always had just what you wanted on hand.

It seems like grandmothers understand the desires of your heart like no one else. When Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans were all the rage and forty dollars a pair, I desperately needed a pair. My mother, too practical for my taste, refused to pay forty dollars “for designer jeans for a twelve-year-old.” My grandmother saw things differently. She completely understood how important those jeans were and bought them for me for Christmas that year. I was in high fashion and loved it when she bought a pair for herself, too.

My grandmother is a tower of strength. When my grandfather died, she took his place as head of the family. She held the family together. When my Aunt Bobbie, her only daughter, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she fought back with the power of prayer. During the most devastating loss of her life, she persevered. She never lost her faith.

Mama has this hotline straight to God. She is willing to pray for anyone who needs a prayer. Over the years she has prayed for my soul, my grades, my best friend, my husband, our marriage, my baby and so much more. She has been a tremendous influence on my spiritual life. It warms my heart to know she climbs into that big white Cadillac of hers and drives to Sunday school and church almost every Sunday without fail.

So many times I have called Mama for cooking tips and recipe advice. She helped me through several difficult recipes and when tasting the final result, she gave me the biggest compliment I could have ever received. With that unmistakable twinkle in her eye, she smiled and said, “Self praise is half scandal, but I think she got her cooking genes from me!”

Time doesn’t change a grandmother or a granddaughter, or the way they feel about one another. When I would go home to Mama’s I could still be that little girl, letting her stir my hot cocoa or spoon tomato soup over crunched-up crackers. To me, my grandmother is ageless. (Which I’m sure she would appreciate.) She didn’t change at all, but remained steadfast in an ever-changing world. Mama made everything seem better, even when it’s wasn't. Her home was a comfortable haven filled with love and the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Now that I am a mother myself, I am privileged to watch my mother become that special grandmother to my daughters. I am even more thrilled to watch the adoration and excitement in my grandmother’s eyes when she sees her great-granddaughters. Mama is slowing slipping away from us. She is imprisoned by dementia. No longer able to talk about the old times or share the joy in the latest fashion or the newest recipe. Slowly she is slipping away from us. Sometimes she musters a "you look so pretty" or "I love you, my precious one". I cherish each moment I spend with Mama, as I know her time on earth is fleeting.

And as I prepare to let her go, it is the hope of salvation that gives me comfort and peace. I know that God will have a special job for her in heaven. It may be the bread baker or the chicken fryer, the closet organizer or the official “vacuumer”, but I hope she can just sit by Saint Peter and call out that phrase I love to hear, “Just lift the latch and come on in.” What a wonderful way to enter Heaven’s gates.