My grandmothers have been tremendously important in my life.
When we went to Texas a couple weeks ago, one major point of the trip was to introduce the babies to my grandmother, Sara June Goode. Coming up on 96 years this month, she has lived a long life in very good health. Only after she turned 95 did her health start to deteriorate. The decline has gotten steeper recently. We expect her to live another few days or weeks. Or hours.
One of the best things that has happened in my whole life is that I finally had children, and that their lives got to intersect with Mamaw's. Mamaw was the 20th Century, born in 1913. They are the 21st, born in 2009. And here both are, lining up for 4 months. I am so grateful.
Two weeks ago Amanda and Elisa smiled at Mamaw, and Mamaw smiled back. I told the girls that Mamaw had been a baby once. And I told Mamaw that my goal was to create two future Mamaws. I can think of nothing better.
That was in East Texas. When we drove to West Texas, to the land where my paternal grandmother had been born and grown up, I started to get sad. Grandma died ten years ago, when I had just started to get the maternal itch. I didn't expect her to get to meet her great-grandchildren, and indeed, she missed them by a decade. Because I couldn't introduce her to her progeny, I decided to show my babies everything Grandma. We dipped their toes in the creek where Grandma had played as a child, and where her three kids and five grandkids had followed suit. We showed them the rocks, the barn, the river, the cattle, the house where she grew up.
Then we took the girls to Grandma and Grandpa's grave. "We're going to meet your great-grandparents." We pulled up to the old family cemetery and found the Bailey plot. I'd thought blithely that I would romantically hold my babies up above Grandma and Grandpa and say, "Here they are. See what I have done? I had twins too! Aren't they beautiful? I'm going to raise them the way I was raised, and I'll make them into people you'll really like."
But when we got there it started to rain. James and I held the babies silently as we stood on the graves. "You stupid fool," I thought to myself. "It's too late."
Grandma wasn't there: she was dead. She couldn't see the babies. She would never know what became of her only granddaughter's life. She couldn't see me carrying on her traditions. It was a stupid, romantic idea. She wasn't there.
James, that sweet man, told me that when he saw the clouds open up and let the sun through the rain, he thought that was Grandma. And when it started raining droplets on us at the cemetery, those were her tears of joy. I love James. That's what I preferred to think. It's a much happier interpretation.
But I could do him one better. That evening we spent the night at my aunt and uncle's house. Two of my three cousins were there, with two new wives brought into the family, and four new children. My other aunt and uncle drove in from out of town to be there, and my dad joined us, too. I missed my brother and my missing cousin, but was thrilled to be in the bosom of the Baileys. There were pictures of Grandma and Grandpa and their forefathers up on the walls. I saw Grandma's footstool in the living room. And I saw a little bit of Grandma in Aunt Mary's face.
This was where Grandma was. She was in her family. Duh. What would Grandma want more than anything? To keep the family together. She'd want for me to keep in touch with my cousins and make more trips to West Texas. She'd want for me and my husband and babies to spend more nights at Aunt Mary's. To pet their dog, to ask Cousin Scotty about his love life. To become great friends with John and Jeff's wives. To have my kids get to know their kids like cousins. Grandma always regretted being an only child. She wanted a big family. The least we could do was to be one.
And so on the way back home, I went through East Texas and saw Mamaw one last time. I thought about the things that had made me so sad when Grandma died in 1999. I'd wanted to keep writing Grandma letters, but I knew there was nowhere to send them. I'd felt sad abandoning Grandma, stopping my letters to her, not visiting her any more. I wanted her to know it wasn't that I had forgotten her: I just didn't know how to reach her.
So the last afternoon I spent with Mamaw, I asked, "When you die and I miss you, what should I do? How can I reach you?"
She said, "Well, what did you have in mind? A seance?"
"No -- is there any particular music I can listen to that will represent you?"
"I've been listening to Harry Connick, Jr. recently," she responded. And then she started singing.
Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Just can't bear it without you
Don't get around much any more.
We can analyze the hell out of those lyrics, and maybe I will on a post some day. But you should have heard Mamaw singing Ella Fitzgerald's lyrics, as she appreciated through Harry Connick, Jr.'s sweet young male voice.
And there I had it. I knew Mamaw would live on through music. And now I knew what to do when my letters would have no more earthly destination. I'd play some jazz for the girls. I'd shape them into little grandmothers for the next century.
This is a personal post. It's the kind of thing I would write in a diary, but here I am writing it in a public forum. Why? That's not a rhetorical question; I had to ask it of myself. Did this have anything to do with infertility or raising my test-tube babies?
Well, yuh. This is what fertility is all about. And this is what infertility threatened to cut short. It's not my own mortality that I care about: it's my grandmothers'. E=MC squared. Conservation of grandmothers in the universe. When two die, two must be born.
So here's to that. Amanda and Elisa: you go, girls!