We spent our summers together filling the better part of most days flipping rocks, searching for lizards and wading barefoot in the stream looking for tadpoles. It was grandma that taught me the important things of life, like how to skip a smooth stone across the still part of a stream and how to spit. She taught the importance of a firm handshake and of looking a man straight in the eyes when speaking to him. She taught that my word was my bond. And, she taught me of God and to appreciate His handiwork in all I see around me.
Many afternoons, in the sweltering heat of summer we lay, side by side in silence on the creek bank, slapping mosquitoes from sweaty appendages. We’d sling freshly dug earthworms into icy mountain waters from the end of cut bamboo fishing poles. We watched as towering cloud dragons dueled with crumpled knights of the round table and prayed for nibbles on the end of our lines, envisioning a black iron skillet full of pink mountain trout sizzling over an open fire.
At days end we gathered our poles and our jar of earthworms. We filled our pockets with treasures collected: sparkly rocks, a few rusty bottle caps, and the prize of an old horse shoe or two. We pulled our stringer from the chilly waters with fish that were large enough to keep and hand in hand, set our sights for home.
Grandma was the best friend a kid could have and I knew it. She was unmovable in her convictions, as firmly rooted as her twisted hundred year old apple trees. Yet I’d watched her instantly drop to her knees and felt her heart breaking with compassion for a kid learning lessons from the school of hard knocks. When Grandma put her arms around you and squeezed, though no words accompanied it, there was no doubt of her undying, unconditional love.
In the steamy heat of evenings we rocked on the enormous porch surrounded by the soft pinks and dusty blues of her prized hydrangeas. The scent of summer’s jasmine and honeysuckle wafted strong upon an occasional welcome breeze.
“Remember last summer when the neighbors dog from over the hill chased that black bear cub up the old sugar maple tree out by the road?” Grandma leaned way back and laughed so hard I thought she would fall from her rocking chair.
Time raced. We laughed and made memories, climbing over hills, skipping rocks in the stream, holding hands, and praying on our knees. But with each summers end, Grandma struggled to hold to the memories we were making. Often, I questioned her about our times together. She smiled and nodded. Words, often absent. Soon I began to wonder just how much she remembered.
Driving down the dusty dirt road and turning the corner towards the big white farmhouse I thought about times past. Grandma’s influence was such an integral part of my life. The adult I had become was due in great measure to her guidance and love.
Once again we sat together rocking and gazing out across the farm at the sheep and cattle lazily dotting the hillside. Gentle breezes carried scents of freshly mown grass. I took her hand in mine and stroked it tenderly.
“Grandma? Remember flipping rocks and searching for lizards? Remember wading the stream looking for tadpoles?” Grandma rocked without speaking or nodding.
“Remember the peanut butter and apple jelly biscuits and frozen sweet tea in fruit jars? How about the bamboo fishing poles and the fresh trout we pan fried in the heavy black iron skillet? Do you remember that Grandma?” Grandma stared straight ahead, still rocking.
“Do you remember that summer you taught me to spit?” I laughed. “Most of it ended up in my shoes until I got the hang of it.” Grandma stared as if gazing into another time and place.
“Remember the rhubarb and strawberry pies you used to make? Mmmm! I loved the way they made the kitchen smell.” Finally Grandma pulled her hand away and cut the silence with words dreaded.
“Tell me your name.” She paused. “Do I know you?”
“Yes Grandma.” I placed my hand softly upon her shoulder, reaching to wipe the tear following the deep crevices of her soft, time-worn cheek. “You know me and I promise, I will never forget you.”
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