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.
AT THE RIVER
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.
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)