The fields were black from being burned, or burning as we drove. The wind was whipping that day, jiggling the back of the minivan so much that the kids began to feel sick. We were headed to Nebraska for the viewing of my Grandmother’s body. The funeral the next day. The older kids tried to read, then lay on the seat moaning. I reminded them that I felt that way for three straight months when they were in my belly. Eyes wide, they imagined the horror and became distracted from their own misery for a moment.
I didn’t appreciate my grandma when I was a kid. To be honest, I thought she was my boring grandma. The one who bought me fake pearls from Wal-Mart for my birthday, who wore polyester pants, who didn’t care who Michael Jackson was. I thought she was out of touch and uninteresting. Bo-ring. I, on the other hand, was with it, trying hard to be cool and caring very much about MJ. Meanwhile she was mattering in people’s lives all around her. She cared who they were. And who I was.
I was an idiot.
As I got older I appreciated my grandma more. When I had my first child I somehow felt a deeper connection to this woman who had done the same. She’d had four – and one when she was forty, before that was a normal, “L.A.” thing to do. And she’d gone back to school after that, getting her undergrad at 49. She’d grown up in the depression, poor, on a farm in the middle of Kansas. She was a preacher’s wife, with all the sacrifices and casseroles that entailed, and she put up with a lot from him. As a grown-up I could see her as a person, a whole character with a backstory who’d faced obstacles I never would and had kept her sweet spirit. Her giggles that bubbled up easily.
Grandma’s service was beautiful. Full of anecdotes from her kids, songs sung by people who loved her, stories of the lives she impacted. The summary of a life lived with gratitude and without expectation, full of quiet ambition and strength. She mattered in the world. This woman who loved people well and gave herself for others. She lived a long, full life and remained humble and happy til the end. Giggling even on her last day. I want to be like that. A Jenea version of the same character and hope. I want to be like Orpha Hooge.
The drive home from Nebraska was less windy, but otherwise it felt the same. No anxiety. No sorrow. No “oh poor Grandma”. We were glad for her and proud to be part of her family. I’d cried some tears, yes, but not really out of sadness. More out of thankfulness for who she was. But for her all was well. She was free from a body that wouldn’t work and a mind whose synapses weren’t always firing. Free from the loneliness of a nursing home. Seeing the result of the hope she’d professed for so long. We saw the same blackened fields, burned to allow new grass to grow. The same hills Grandma knew as a child. And it made perfect sense. The bookends of our last goodbye to my lovely grandmother.