Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHILDHOOD (03/09/17)
- TITLE: Paper Dolls Can't Die?
By Lillian Rhoades
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Time has blurred her image, but recollections of her death add to the mosaic of my early years. Great-Grandma Ella dominated the direction of my life until she died the year I turned eight and just before winter had outrun its course. For no explainable reason, decades later certain events surrounding her death, and the hectic days that followed sporadically crowd my thoughts like impatient memories that refuses to be ignored.
Since my widowed mother could not afford a telephone, we relied on letters to share good news. Telegrams, on the other hand, usually forebode bad news and always interfered with my childhood world of paper dolls, bubble gum, and carefree innocence. The week before Grandma Ella died, the dreaded telegram delivered the alarming news.
Its crisp message, Come quickly, Grandma Ella has taken a turn for the worse, forced my debut into another side of life where paper dolls aren’t real but death is. My mother, my younger sister and I arrived just after dusk a day later and wasted no time getting to my grandmother’s bedside. The dark shadows of night joined hands with my sense of gloom. My soft-spoken grandmother who forced me to practice my piano lessons, who wore her signature discipline enforcement, a leather belt of three tails, around her waist, but who also created a beautiful hand-sewn quilt for me, who introduced me to the best home-made rolls on Planet Earth, who washed our clothes and cleaned house so my mother could work, this grandmother lay dying.
Her dark, weathered skin barely covered her high cheek bones, and her lips looked as if she was seconds away from letting out a whistle. She opened her eyes when we came in, and somehow I just knew she recognized us. I wanted to grab her hand, because deep inside of me there was this urge to let her know that I really didn’t hate her for the whipping she gave me that left marks on my legs and made me think of running away. But I couldn’t do it, not with all the grown-ups hovering around. During the night, while my sister and I slept at the home of a family friend, Grandma Ella’s soul slipped away, and my chance to tell her that I still loved her went with it.
The events that took place in the days following her death, once vividly unforgettable to me as a child, have become a faded picture that can never be restored. Like an artist desperate to recapture a priceless painting, I’ve strained to relive what happened during those days following Grandma Ella’s death. But most of my memories take shape as form without color, except for the brown and white dog, my mother’s uncontrollable sobbing during the funeral service, a buxom lady dressed in white who tried to console her with 1 Thessalonians 4:13, and the words to a chorus: Jesus Rose from the Dead. These are the memories that keep coming back.
On the morning after Grandma Ella’s death, the friend at whose house we were staying invited me to take her dog for a walk, perhaps to distract me from the desolation of grieving adults. Up one street and down the other, neighbors stopped to comment on how a little girl could be walking such a big dog. For a brief time, I basked in the glory from all the attention and forgot about the gloom back at the house.
Distractions have an easy task to perform when you’re young. Unfortunately, my diversion was short-lived. During the funeral service the next day, I was jolted back to realty by my mother’s uncontrollable sobbing. I had never seen her cry before and it tore at my fragile, emotional moorings like a fierce storm ripping away a dinghy from its anchor. I sat next to her, bewildered and feeling helpless.
Soon the woman in white appeared.
”C’mon on, Mabel,” she chided. “Don’t you know we are not supposed to sorrow as those who have no hope? Your Grandma Ella would not be happy with you crying like this.”
Her words failed to console my mother, especially after the processional when we walked past the casket singing that chorus about being risen from the dead. Memories of her weeping remain with me, untouched by time.
Several years after Grandma Ella died, and my childhood ended, I said good-bye once more. This loss I did not regret.
It was time to put my paper dolls to rest.
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