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Now it’s my turn to provide the Grandma Place

I never thought I’d wake again happy, knowing I would never again be Grandma Ina Olivia’s granddaughter.

I got the call at work. Grandma had been rushed to the hospital unconscious. If I wanted to say goodbye, I would have to come immediately.

As I responded to the call, those in my office heard the emotion in my voice, instinctively running to my side. As the dreaded words poured from my lips, they reached for me as if to hug away the pain. Grandma can’t be dying; I was just at the farm three weeks earlier. She made corn chowder for lunch. We sat at the old kitchen table eating and gazing out the light-filled window over the pasture and down to the river.

Grandma had commented once again how tall the tree had grown that my Dad had planted as a boy. That day we had talked and laughed, and both missed Grandpa together. He had passed three years earlier.

As the afternoon turned to evening, we hugged goodbye, and as I began to drive away I could see grandma’s tears falling from her eyes to see us go, waving slowly as if to say, “please don’t go, come back for just a little while longer.”

My husband reached for my hand, and I began to cry. I know now that Grandma and I had both known in our deepest being that was the last time she would be in her Grandma Place, and I would be in my Granddaughter Place.

I rushed to call my husband and children while running to my car. Grandma was a good hour and a half away, and I had to be there before she was gone.

Driving over the mountain as I have so many times in the past, everything I used to enjoy so much — the beautiful evergreen trees, amazing rock formations, our favorite camping spot — today were just in my way. The height of the mountains and the curves in the terrain just slowed me down, and those turning off to go to the lake delayed me even further, keeping me from where I needed to be.

I made it in time. Grandma looked so small lying in the bed. She was a very small woman, maybe five feet two inches and not heavy but not thin. She was just the right Grandma size, so that when wearing her frayed cotton waist apron her tummy had the little comfort bump I remembered sitting on as I snuggled her when I was a child.

Her hair was messed gray and white. She was never fussy about her appearance. A true natural woman. But I could never remember her hair not combed. Her lips were dry and her skin somewhat pale. I came to her side up near her face so I could kiss her cheek and let her know that I loved her, and I was there. I had to know that she was not in pain, that she was not afraid, that she was not alone.

It was so different, not being greeted by, “Hi, honey, I am so glad you are here.” It was so different not smelling the Ivory dish soap that forever lingered in her kitchen — at least for the 50 years of my life. Not glancing over at the little, worn, silver tin cup that sat near her weathered kitchen sink with the distinct country smell of well water floating through the air as she would fill her cup throughout the day. No comments were to be heard about the family wanting to update the kitchen, all believing she needed new cabinets, and her profoundly announcing, “Grandpa made these cabinets for me, and no one will ever take them from my kitchen. I don’t want or need anything different — ever.”

There was no bread rising — or should I say over rising, falling over the edges of the old glass baking dish used so much that its once bright color was almost undetectable. The yeast filing the room sweet and pure, smelling like love.

It was different not driving up the red cinder land for her to greet me at the old farmhouse. The house built purely with determination by a then very young couple working together to make a home for their six children.

Through the years Grandpa, with Grandma alongside, built their home. Grandpa’s hands were the tools. Power tools that were available were beyond their budget, so the building was done with a hammer and a hand saw. Grandma was his inspiration.

I would not smell the stinging scent of the manzanita brush hot from the summer sun. No glimpse of the old weathered gray barn nearly gone now would be in view. It was different not to be anticipating the excitement of Grandma sharing with me an embroidery project she was working on, and feeling so proud that I was the only grandchild that was given leftover threads for my projects. The art I love and was taught by her. It was different.

And then it was the end. I said my last goodbye, I prayed for her to join Grandpa in his waiting, loving arms. Now the two of them an eternal witness of love. I next visited her as she lay lifeless with her most precious cross embroidery linen draped across her chest. Displayed in my eyes as royalty, she would leave me.

I couldn’t bear the thought of going to the farm without her there. But I did. I couldn’t drive up the lane, so I parked on the small shoulder of Highway 97, Route 3, Box 274. An address forever engrained in my memory.

Looking up the slow gradual hill, just beyond the cherry tree and past the vegetable garden, just above the river rock foundation. The foundation that so many seasons ago was placed by hand, piece by piece, unconsciously setting the seamless transition from her past to my future. I had prepared for the emotion that I knew would overtake me, but it didn’t.

As I gazed at the farm from the small distance, my head whirled with memories. Good, comforting, sweet, precious memories — of warm summer days drinking root beer or coke floats in the grassy front yard. Not just for me but for all the children from the nearby farms. Catching lizards as they scurried round the porch, of which Grandma had absolutely no interest. Swinging on the rust-covered, creaky old swing near the pasture while watching Grandma standing in the backyard, unhurried, feeding the birds her leftover bits of bread. Always commanding their performance with the words “sing birdies sing.”

I remembered the sheets that covered the mattress of the old metal-railed bed that I fell into at night, with its gentle earthly fragrance of being hung and dried from the old clothes line. I could see Grandma’s silhouette so distant but distinguishable with embroidery hoop in hand.

I was filled with the calm sweet realization that I had left my Granddaughter Place, not with sorrow or tears but with joy, pride and a sense of responsibility. I had been taught by the best — to show honest feelings to everyday life, to not strive to compete but for contentment, to love pure, sweet and honest.

I learned to embrace my life as a lesson to those who may be unknowingly writing notes within their heart. That was my place to be. The realization revealed to me that life had so naturally, so unconsciously, so perfectly shifted, and it was now my turn, my gift, and my destiny to proudly provide my own grandchildren with their Grandma Place. This was now my place to be.

Debra Sutton lives in Eagle Point.

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