Remembering Grandma

I realized when I looked at the calendar this morning that it was 16 years since Grandma Martha died of breast cancer. The night before she passed, I told her (as she lay staring with open eyes–I don’t know if she even heard me) that I’d think of her every day for the rest of my life. I’m pretty sure I have. Sometimes it’s sheer nostalgia that conjures the memories; other times it’s when I discover some genealogical fact about our lineage that would have surprised and amazed her.

At still other times I watch my sister with her kids and imagine the delight my grandmother would have taken in my niece and nephew–and the pleasure (possibly amazement) at the outstanding mother my sister turned out to be. (You see, my sister didn’t seem to care much about kids as an adolescent and young adult, and she married after Grandma was gone.)

The poem below is one I wrote about 20 years ago about a special Sunday Grandma and I shared. Sometimes I swear I can still hear her humming those hymns. 



for Grandma Martha


The Sunday before Grandma’s surgery

we sit along the bank

beside the General Store

at Rabbit Hash.  For an hour

we have debated taking the ferry

to Rising Sun, but the boat

chugs in, chugs out

and we stay put, lulled

by the backwash lapping

the stubbled beach.


Grandma talks

about rivers.  Immersion,

she states, is the only

salvation, to hell with sprinkling

over marble basins.  At fifteen,

pregnant, she swam each day

across the shallow tributary

near her home, buoyed

by her extended belly,

until Great-Grandma made her stop.


“I never was afraid

of a river,” she swears, eyeing

the ever-present ferry

which seems always to be just

leaving.  We could sit like this

all day, putting crossings off

as Grandma hums snatches

of old-time gospel hymns

where water saves, and the Almighty

pilots the holy ship to Zion.

(from Rites and Observances [Finishing Line Press], (c)2004)


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