Grandma Lucy was a young lady during a time in American and world history that happens to be hard for me to comprehend. I was born in 1966, and by the time my days of life began to find permanent lodging places in my brain, Grandma Lucy was already very old. She grew up in Ireland, and ended up in Decatur, Alabama. Chlorine gas at Langemark-Poelkapelle, released by the Germans during the Great War, took her husband’s life and left my mother fatherless.
Grandma Lucy lived in a one room house, raised four kids, and was one of the most independent, life-loving people I ever knew. She could play board game marbles for hours with anyone willing to compete against her, and she loved to watch Jeopardy, using her encyclopedic knowledge of history to answer almost every question the very first year the show went on the air. She taught my mother to respect education, find a career, and never believe that the world owes anyone anything. Work hard and the rewards will come.
Grandma Lucy would talk to me for hours on end during the 1970s and 1980s. She would talk about Dublin, Ireland, in such detail that I always felt like I had actually visited the city. Lucy’s maiden name was McClanahan, though she became a Walker when she married her Englishman who courted her during the war. She would talk about any subject. Well, almost any subject. See, Grandma Lucy came to live with us during her later years, relocating from her Alabama apartment to our ranch home in Dyer, Indiana. When she moved in, she placed a burgundy, wool bustle dress in her closet. It was covered in clear plastic and looked quite expensive.
It took me a few weeks to get up the nerve to ask Grandma Lucy about the dress. It was really the only clothing in her wardrobe that looked like it came straight from the set of an old western movie. “Grandma, what’s the story behind that dress in your closet?” I asked. I was a teenager, and tactfulness was not high on my list of gentlemanly qualities. Looking back, I should have first asked my mother about the dress.
“I…I…well…” Grandma Lucy replied. She couldn’t talk about the dress. I can only imagine its history is somehow connected to the young man who lied about his age to serve the Bristish army, only to suffer years of pain from the Chlorine gas that permanently damaged his lungs. Their time together was short. Too short. Grandma walked to her room without answering my question.
It was on that day that I understood a bit more about memories. I could see that even though Grandma Lucy wanted to tell me about the dress in her closet, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold back the emotions that would spill out when she did so. I was a teenager with my whole life ahead of me. Grandma Lucy was a woman with many years of wondering about what-might-have-been behind her. In fact, I was around the same age as British Infantryman James Walker was when she first met him. And as my mother would later inform me, Lucy was wearing that burgundy dress on the day she first met my grandfather.
It’s been many years since Grandma Lucy passed from this world to the next. I imagine God has supplied her with a new dress to wear, though I’m sure it closely resembles the one that was hanging in her closet. For more than sixty years, Grandma Lucy saw that dress as a way to remember a time in her life when things were magical. I imagine my grandfather waited at Heaven’s gates, a board game of marbles set up to play, and a new set of lungs for him to tell Lucy how much he missed her.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this article! Sometimes, it's the simplest things that hold the strongest memories.
I felt moved to post similar memories and the lyrics to a don I wrote, Old Blue Suit.
Thanks for the reminder.