“God Is Blowing Kisses.” That is what my grandmother would say as we hung our linens on the clothesline. Her long grey hair blowing gently across her tanned and weathered face.
When I was little sometimes I hated her – why couldn’t she be like a ‘regular’ grandma with short well-coifed hair, floral apron, and Bible-sized book of dog-eared recipes? Instead of homemade apple pie our desserts consisted of rice cakes smothered in homemade peanut butter.
She took me to church – once. As we were walking back to her Jeep we overheard someone call her a wicked witch. That’s right; before the organ even stopped playing “How Great Thou Art” a well-manicured group of women were wagging their forked tongues.
After school I would run straight to “Into the Mystic” market to help grandma. Tourist loved grandma and the eclectic shopping experience she provided. Locals however thought she was a lunatic and called her “Nutty Noreen.”
Grandma sold everything including herbal teas, Amish preserves, Mennonite bread, organic produce, and buffalo jerky from the reservation. A mainstay of yuppie consumers kept us in business.
But the Mystic was always closed on the Lord’s Day. Instead grandma would take me hiking along with ‘Little Orphan Annie’ our pet wolf. She had found Annie whimpering in the woods next to her bloodied dead mother. Our ranching neighbor had dutifully protected his livelihood with a shotgun.
We would hike to Walden’s Meadow - barefoot. Grandma always described it as getting back to the basics of life. She said the general population had grown weak, with tender feet to prove it.
Now Annie went everywhere with grandma, even the Mystic because there was only one thing ranchers hated more than wolves and that was “Nutty Noreen.” They avoided our shop like the plague.
‘Into the Mystic’ never provided a multitude of wealth, but it kept us afloat. Okay so we lived in bright yellow train caboose on the bank of Sutter Mill. It was placed there by my grandfather who was an avid gold miner. He built a deck around it and decorated it with Christmas lights - I thought it was amazing – when I was five. Not so much when Steven Nash came to pick me up for the homecoming dance and never talked to me again.
Grandpa died when I was three and grandma never took the Christmas lights down. Instead she adorned the deck with paper lanterns from China Town, and wind-chimes recycled from discarded silverware.
We slept in bunk beds. We had no TV but enjoyed our subscription to National Geographic immensely. I dreamed of being a photo journalist but secretly feared I would end up chopping wood in grandpa’s flannel shirts just like grandma.
What did she do with all of her money anyway? It certainly wasn’t spent on shoes!
High School graduation was bittersweet. I liked school, I even had some friends in spite of the fact I was the granddaughter of the local witch. In gold caps and gowns we gathered on the football field. Shimmering and simmering in the sun we silently pleaded for a breeze.
A gust of wind stirred the graduation cap tassels once grandma entered the stadium. Her long grey braids outlined her proud face. She was dressed in jeans, white blouse, and her favorite jade jewelry. Her authenticity was breathtaking and I realized how much I loved her for being unpretentious.
That night we built a bonfire to celebrate. We danced hand in hand to Van Morrison songs. Then she gave me something that changed my life forever, her life savings - a check for $75,000.00 for my college education.
That was five years ago. As I drive my Jeep up Highway 88 Annie barks as we pass “Into the Mystic," now boarded up and empty.
Once home my heart aches when I see the faded paper lanterns tattered and torn. The tarnished wind chimes are hanging silent and still.
I unlace my hiking boots to liberate my ‘soft’ soles. As tears sting my eyes I reach for the urn and breathe in deeply. Together Annie and I meander down the overgrown path to Walden’s Meadow, to once again witness God’s glory.
A gentle breeze is drying my tears now, and Annie is seemingly smiling. I can hear grandma whisper in the wind, “God Is Blowing Kisses.”
I know it is time to bid farewell – to let go and let God take her - into the mystic.
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