I light up her dark eyes. I contribute to the worry lines on her weathered forehead, and to the laugh lines near her soft eyes and soft cheeks. I make her proud just because I exist. I made her a grandmother when she was 43 years young. I was born into a family in which I never fit. Most who share my DNA are strangers who have always spoken a different language than me, figuratively. I was an accident, an unplanned pregnancy. My father, her son, did the honorable thing and married my mother. In the way of her life, she turned lemons into lemonade. I am her first grand.
She put herself through nursing school with four small children at home during a time when women didn’t have “careers”. True to her calling, she cared for me. I’m really not sure that she ever realized she also had a calling for teaching. She taught her children and grandchildren so many things that enriched all of our lives. Mostly, she taught me, with her life, a love of learning. She showed me that one possesses life when she possesses a love of learning something previously unknown. She doesn’t know the meaning of the word Empath. She just knew I felt things more deeply than others. She taught me to read when I was 3 years old, and with that knowledge, she gave me the gift of recognizing the importance of words. Along with that gift, she opened the door to a world that was safe for a sensitive soul. She showed me how to look at the world around me, and describe it in vivid color as I saw it. She practiced writing with me with the patience that only a grandmother can possess. She taught me that details are important in grammar, spelling, and, well, everything. When I was frustrated at my lack of skill, she gently told me over and over to “sound it out”.
Later, when I was old enough to be an awkward middle schooler, she would check me out of school to take me shopping. While I heard “It’s ridiculous to spend that kind of money on designer clothes,” from my mother, my grandmother would buy me the first pair of Nike shoes I ever owned. I remember every detail-white leather with the blue swoosh. I felt like I was on top of the world wearing them to school. She was the first one to point me to my own self-worth. She practiced words with me for spelling bees, and cheered as I won the state championship with the word “lobotomy”.
In high school, she was always up for an adventure with me anytime! She packed up my younger brother and my younger cousin, and loaded them into the backseat of a rebuilt Camaro. She navigated the map while I drove us to a dance event hours away where I would perform with my team. She and the boys cheered and cheered and we all sang at the top of our voices to the radio on the trip home.
Ever the nurse, she came to stay with me for the weekend at the rental house where I lived when I was sick, hours from home at my first job after college. When I moved into an apartment even further away, she drove there so she could take me grocery shopping. She was with me when I bought my first car on my own, and she beamed with pride when she sat at the negotiating table with me and watched me haggle with the salesman at the price.
Today I am 50 years old, and she is 94. I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have her present in my life today. My own life has woven into an interesting, if not celebrated, tapestry. I am a recovering alcoholic with 24 years sobriety, a divorced mother of one who figured out I am gay at age 44, a runner, a business owner, and an intricately designed human being. She doesn’t understand all of the things I am because her life experiences are not my life experiences, yet she loves me without condition. At 94 years old, she is willing to learn what she doesn’t know. So while we sit together on her front porch rocking, she asks me, “How’s Hope doing? I really like her.” And with one simple phrase, I am reduced to tears by a loving gesture.
She taught me things that cannot be learned from books-intelligence, and how to use it to my advantage; the importance of speaking up, even when its not popular; courage to recognize and come to terms with my own shortcomings; and how to live my truth unapologetically. She has been an elegant warrior her whole life. Her stoic and fierce spirit permeates every cell in my body. Love like this cannot be contained in heritage. I imagine that pieces of her heart ripple through every patient entrusted to her care, and every person she has ever touched with her life. I can take it from here. Every time I touch another with my own life, I am reminded of her legacy. She is an amazing human being. She is a live picture of living life out loud, unapologetically. I can sprinkle her spirit with my own touch because I know how good it feels to be loved with just a few simple words while rocking on a front porch.