Friday, March 31, 2017

All You Taught Me

Michigan, Sept 2016

A couple of years ago I went to visit my grandma. We had so many good conversations in her little room at my aunt and uncle's house in Walla Walla. In this one, she told me, "One day my heart is going to give out and I'll be gone just like that. And you will be fine."  And while at other times she was more anxious and afraid she would have a long painful death, this ended up being prophetic. And I keep reminding myself that all is well with my soul. I am fine. But I will miss her so.

My Grandma Bigger was not a playing grandma. My cousins and I can't remember her playing a game, and certainly not dolls. She had apparently been quite the athlete in her youth, playing basketball among other things, but by the time we came on the scene, she preferred reading, crocheting, embroidery, and watching television. She loved the quiet. She was an avid sports fan, climbing the stands to watch the Seahawks in her 90s, following the Seattle Mariners.

Mackinac Island Ferry, Sept 2016
She didn't force anything on anyone. So you had to ask her questions about her life, you had to ask her what she thought. And oh, then the gems that she produced.

When I called to her just a month ago, she thanked me so much for calling. I told her it always made me feel better to talk with her, that she helped me with life. She sounded like she had a catch in her throat. "It DOES?" She was incredulous. And it did. Every time. She gave me courage and perspective.

When I was feeling overwhelmed by potty-training my child, I shared that it was not going well. She encouraged me by saying she wished she hadn't been so hard on one of her children. Oh, she had so many regrets about how she had pushed him. "But I had to break the ice in the creek to wash his diapers," she added. Wow! That changed my perspective ENTIRELY. I also haven't complained about laundry ever since.

Mackinac Island with my dad, Sept 2016
She took the time to counsel me to "punish" less, telling me she wished she hadn't been so hard on her kids. She saw in me the need to have "control" and told me when she looked back, she didn't think she would have done any harm if she had punished less, and just loved them. (She wasn't at all opposed to discipline in the right frame of mind and for the right reasons.)

Once when I was hating my life in a gray, rainy, depressing climate and complained about it, she told me she had lived there too. And hated it just as much. It was there the Red Cross came to her door and told her they thought my grandpa was dying. She was a young mother and he was on a military base, in training to go fight World War II and had contracted pneumonia. She remembered they told her to find a neighbor to watch her child so she could go say "good-bye." My grandpa pulled through. I decided that my life was really NOT that bad. It was just weather.

I asked her about what it was like to live through the Depression and she told me how her family spent one winter of the Depression living in a tent in the snow in Yakima, Washington. She only remembered eating the wild plums that grew at the edge of the field and said she didn't like plums to that day. That story helped me appreciate what I have never had to do without.

Once when I was preparing for a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, I called her and asked her if she had been there. I knew she had been to Mexico, having seen pictures of boating trips off Mazatlan. She chuckled when I asked. "Oh yes, I was there twice." And then, what she would say to me often, "I really have had such an amazing life." And she did. And so do I. Getting to see the world, and even better, seeing it with someone you love, is amazing.
Cruising through the Panama Canal

As she grew older, I became more and more aware of her anxious nature and the courage it took for her to do many things. Every trip she took over the last ten years, she wasn't sure she could go on.  She was worried about so many things and yet, she bravely got on planes to Washington D.C., to Michigan, to Ireland. Over and over, she kept going. Even at the end, she got in the car and left "safe" to see something new. As my battles with anxiety escalated over the last few years, I have claimed her spirit time and time again. I have set foot on the plane, stood in the line, and boarded the train. When my nerves kick in, I have often had to remind myself, "If your 90-something grandmother can do this, you certainly can."

But the most important thing Grandma taught me was LOVE. When you married into the Bigger family, you became a Bigger. In-laws weren't outsiders; they were loved and cherished as beloved children, and grandchildren. All of their in-laws called them "Mom" and "Dad" and it wasn't forced. They were loved. 

She was a strong wife to my grandfather. She gave him structure and strength; he made her life fun and adventurous. She loved rules; he loved to bend those rules. But they loved and respected each other and created a legacy together. They modeled and promoted what they believed it. So no, they didn't push me on the swings or go down the slide. But I will never forget the time they took me to ice cream after observing me do something unselfish for others. I won't forget that they came to my baptism, my graduations, and applauded my hard work. I treasure a letter my grandmother penned to me on September 11, as soon as she learned I was far from my Virginia home and safe. And just a few weeks ago, she dialed my number to say thank you for her birthday flowers. It was our last call. She was grateful then. I will be grateful forever.

Garnet Clarice McCoy Bigger, March 4, 1921-March 22, 2017

1 comment:

Mike said...

Like like like.