The element of beginning again is not uncommon to the condition of mankind. Since the foreclosure of Adam and Eve’s lovely home and their ensuing escort from paradise, folks have been starting over- and over- and over.
A breach in personal or community infrastructure can produce grievous circumstances that yearn for a scale of justice that does not exist. In spite of that reality, there is good news.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made with natural coping skills available to all, but accessed by few. Inspirational accounts of perseverance and restoration are like cool water to a parched tongue. They soothe and empower and give birth to hope.
In 1940, on a starless evening shrouded in thick fog and chilly rain, my uncle topped the hill in a shiny black car and slammed into the back of a stalled farm truck. He walked away unhurt. His passenger, my paternal grandmother, was not afforded the same privilege.
Broken bones numbered in the double digits. She suffered one year of excruciating therapy before she reached her saturation point and demanded a release from the hospital. To compensate for an unsteady gait she pushed and shoved her way through thirty more years by clinging to the back of a small kitchen chair.
This mother of my father had spunk, humor and an iron will. There was something about her endurance that caused heads to shake in stunned admiration. Once knitted back into a reasonable shadow of her former self, she cast plaster aside to flex atrophied muscle; then came roaring out of recuperation detention - bound up, wound up, and in her mind, ready to roll. Self-pity was one impediment she declined to embrace.
Her survival tapestry was woven with fascinating threads of determination. She seemed to fashion physical ability from the same cloth as the Emperor’s new clothes. A picture of her unique character can best be painted with a wide sweep of the anecdotal brush - the best evidence of her originality.
The extended hospital confinement was a kind of finishing school for an already over-developed and misguided sense of majesty. Injury to the larynx added drama to her raspy voice. This devastating change of life happened before I was born, so I never knew her any other way.
To my unbiased little girl understanding, she was merely a grandmother who let me stand on a chair and help her in the kitchen. She had little interest in what else I did, like bang on her ancient piano or take a nap on her old fur coat.
The four grandchildren before me called her Mammy. The perplexing thing is, so did most every other person in town. She operated a taxi company where she dispatched her sweet, docile husband-driver to haul passengers, and sometimes, contraband beverages, from across the state line to our dry county. That does not sound like something a woman with such an affectionate name would do, but Mammy was unique and unpredictable.
World War II was becoming front-page news. Small town monkey business paled in comparison, and seemed to come to a screeching halt about the same time she did.
Her sometimes frustrating but always tenacious personality did not waver through the years. There must be a psychological term for bold confidence in the face of bewildering physical compromises. I call it the Queen Mammy factor. She never took drugs, prescription or otherwise, but she did become a devoted fan of a certain brand of cola, which she savored ice cold and in the bottle.
“If someone doesn’t bring me a Coke…” was threatened daily in the royal chambers. We always did.
Sometimes she would giggle so hard she would just topple right over. Then she would laugh all the more as we hoisted her upright while Dad teased her about being more difficult than Jell-O to pick up. Her frequent nosedives to the linoleum never produced any broken bones. Maybe she had paid her fracture dues that dark night when her world came crashing down.
Mammy was unable to keep a secret about anything from anybody. There was no such thing as classified information. With that spill-the-beans reputation she would have made a terrible spy.
She could hardly wait to ambush me with,” Guess what your graduation present is?”
“ I don’t want to know,” I protested, making for the door, hands over ears. I wasn’t fast enough.
“Luggage,” she squealed with great delight.
Many of her observations were so amusing it was hard to keep a straight face as she shared some bit of everyday drama. Before fancy telephones with caller identification she was fond of reporting with great importance, “While you were out the phone rang and rang. I think it was long distance.”
One enduring talent not affected by the car wreck was her cooking ability.
When the baton of Thanksgiving dinner preparation was passed to me, its outcome was always measured against the memory of her culinary expertise. Somehow, her clumsy efforts in rolling out pastry produced the most exquisite biscuits and mouth-watering chocolate pie; an impressive accomplishment even for many perfectly strong and healthy cooks.
In light of her debilitating handicap, she convinced my stepmother and me to represent her at a cake-baking contest sponsored by the local television station. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that her yummy golden pound cake deserved first prize. We returned from that hilarious escapade to find her braced against the kitchen sink, companion chair nearby, quietly washing dishes. Before we could announce the unbelievably bad news she glared at us, with her one good eye, every inch the un-sugarcoated royal pain, and demanded, “Well… what did I win?”
Mammy was not inclined to consider the common sense side of a sudden notion as evidenced in her plea for Dad to buy a cow so she could drink the kind of milk she drank as a child. When he didn’t get around to purchasing any livestock she soon forgot about her bovine yen and moved on to other ways to keep us hopping.
Her final act was a real doozy. By a vote of one, she elected herself to the position of world’s greatest comedy writer. The short, plump, crippled, white- haired enigma furiously scribbled page after page of a manuscript she insisted we send to Bob Hope or Johnny Carson. On and on she wrote, pausing to chuckle at her own brilliance, then rushing to document more creative wit. She took child-like delight in this new project and wrote nearly non-stop for weeks. The only noticeable slow down was to command: “Fix my pillow, get more paper,” and the eternal, “SOMEBODY BRING ME A COKE!”
Providing unsolicited comedy scripts to the biggest names in entertainment would be daunting to most novice writers, but she careened on at break-neck speed to finish her mysterious composition. The fact that she was blind from several strokes and confined to a nursing home bed did not deter the marathon humor-sketching drama. She could not see, yet she wrote as if the future of television depended on her prodigious output. Like news of the Titanic before its first voyage, the façade she presented seemed unsinkable.
She gave us implicit instructions to get this once-in-a-lifetime sample of her literary genius to the “right” people. We did not mention that none of us knew just who those important persons might be. She finally reached the end of her remarkable reserves. With little fanfare, she laid her frazzled ink pen to rest and succumbed to pneumonia.
Three decades later, I squinted and pondered her labor of love, even turning it upside down, but I still could not read a word of it. It was gibberish, or perchance, in code. That makes me sad, considering how hard she worked. Determination to overcome was personified in this woman who loved to laugh almost as much as she loved to be the boss. The more glaring lesson was her intense and personal endeavor to produce something worthwhile; yet, it bore no fruit, not unlike the efforts of mankind without God.
Untold energy was devoted to surviving in a normal world with abnormal baggage but she chose to persevere without whining about her damaged body. The lack of witness to the part faith may have played in her rearranged and mended life becomes a silent mandate for those of us who do have a story that blesses others with a testimony of hope and encouragement.
In my youth it never even crossed my mind to wonder, or even care, if this stubborn, creative, complicated, amusing woman had a real faith in God. The only clue I have is one remark she made in 1969 when the moon landing was big news.
An excited reporter exclaimed, “ This is the most important thing ever to happen in history.”
Shaking her gnarled hand at the television, she roared in her most agitated sandpaper voice, “No, it is not. The day Jesus came to earth is the most important!”
The memory of that one sentence speaks volumes to me now. Part of her unique legacy may rest in those stories of true grit and perseverance told to inspire others, but more than that, I hope there was peace in her heart when she died.
Only Mammy and her Maker know what is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Her granddaughter wants to believe she accepted the One who could set her free and that she is basking in that awesome eternal gift that bears the name she was given at birth: Grace.
Linda is a freelance Christian writer of tongue-in-cheek humor and between-the-eyes serious fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. A former nurse with an English Degree, she edits for others, reviews books, and makes observations from a place of experience and wisdom that finally comes with a little age.
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