Sunday, May 11, 2008

Granny's song

by John D Ramsey

Today is the second anniversary of Granny Annie’s death. She was old. She had Alzheimer’s disease. She was tired. She died on Mother’s Day.

Anna Edwards was born in 1910 in a log cabin in the Ozarks. When she was about three-years old, she traveled with her family to Orrick, Missouri by covered wagon. These were the years before World War I, before automobiles were necessities. They were not exactly Pony Express days, but for folks in poverty they might as well have been.

Anna married young and lived with her husband, Jess Colley, and his orphaned brothers on an apple orchard. Her story was not quite like Wendy among the Lost Boys. No, she did not civilize them; instead, Jess gave her a rifle for her birthday and she learned to shoot, skin, clean, and cook things that I would only shoot. Anna was a good shot, although not always a successful huntress. Family legend has it that soon after receiving the rifle she saw a critter skulking around by the outhouse. She killed it with a single shot; only then did Anna discover that the critter was the family's cat.

Anna and Jess raised three children, and Anna buried Jess when he was 45. She married Reuben McKim a few years later and buried him in 1980. Soon after, she moved to North Dakota to be near her youngest grandchildren. The complaint I heard was that she could not buy grits in North Dakota, so I sent her some. Granny liked grits for breakfast, but she was a completely capable cook nonetheless. Everyone who knew Granny had special memories from her kitchen. I remember her gingersnap cookies.

Granny lived many places in her latter years. She always lived with or near one of her children. Near the end of her life, she lived with my parents. Alzheimer’s disease made that arrangement impossible, and Granny moved into a nursing home.

A couple years before Granny died, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about my daughter, Claire. Lisa had just begun to home-school Claire and I woke up wondering how to teach Claire history. Seems strange for a middle of the night awakening, but it seemed urgent at the time.

To me, history is delicious except when over-baked. I imagined that a literary approach to history might interest Claire. It occurred to me that telling a family history might enlighten an entire era. My mind wandered to the story of Granny Annie as a three-year old riding in a covered wagon from the hills of Camden County to the silted earth of Orrick, Missouri. I imagined my girls in a similar situation. If I could convey Granny's story in an interesting fashion, perhaps I would capture their imaginations. I began to write:

My Anna

My Anna, are you hiding in the damp springhouse?
Do you sip cold milk with kittens from the barn?
Time is short, my Anna, don’t dilly-dally long.
We’re moving to a large and friendly farm.

My Anna, are you hiding in the corner of the cabin?
I can see you in the chinking between the logs.
Time is short, my Anna, the wagon’s loaded now.
We’ll set out by the early morning fog.

My Anna, are you hiding behind the dogwood trees?
We can’t stay here in the mountains anymore.
I know you’ll miss your springhouse, your corner, and your blossoms.
Our hearts cling to earth in ways we can’t ignore.

My Anna, are you crying, underneath the darkened sky?
I see your teardrops sparkle like the stars.
While the embers glow and crackle, rest calmly in their warmth.
Leaving home and coming home, my Anna--my home is where you are.

My Anna, are you hiding among the daffodils?
I see you’re almost smiling back at me.
We’re close to home, my Anna; we’re coming up the road.
Come sit on top my shoulders and you’ll see.

My Anna, are you nesting in your freshened feather bed?
I can see no sadness on your face.
Sleep tonight, my Anna. Hear heaven singing praise.
By grace we’re home, my Anna . . . by His grace.

When I had finished writing, I realized the poem was not about history, but rather about the future.

My mom read this poem to Granny several times when her mind was strong. There were good days and bad. Nevertheless, when I saw Granny again, she did not recognize me. She recognized Claire and Gabby because she kept their photographs on her night table. When she saw Lisa, she asked her, “Now, who are you?” Lisa explained, “I’m Lisa, John’s wife.” Granny exclaimed, “Oh, I know you!” She then turned to me and asked bluntly, “And who are you?”

Granny told my little girls that day, “I just thank God that I've lived to be over 100, and I can still get around.” Granny was 95, and she could only take a few steps using a walker or cane. I am certain that Granny was thankful for something; she just could not remember for what.

I saw Granny Annie again on the day she died. I was in the process of finding a job in Kansas City and moving from Minnesota. Lisa had taken Claire back to the northland to clean and pack, while I waited with Gabby in Kansas City for a recruiter to call. The call was scheduled for Monday morning, but I had become anxious. I decided to stage my retreat to Minnesota from my parent’s home. If the call came, I was only two hours from a face-to-face interview. If the call did not come, then I was two hours closer to Minnesota.

Gabby, who was three-and-a-half at the time, came with me to the farm on Sunday after church. We settled in Granny's old room. After dinner, my mother asked us to take her to see Granny at the nursing home. It was Mother’s Day. When we arrived, Granny was resting uncomfortably. Her room was hot. My mom adjusted the temperature and gave Granny a drink of water. Granny seemed unaware of me, but she acquiesced to Mom’s care. We did not stay long, but we would have stayed longer had we known.

As we were leaving, Gabby walked up to Granny’s bedside just inches from her face. Granny opened and fixed her eyes on Gabby. Gabby said, “We love you, Granny Annie.” Granny mumbled a response, and drifted to sleep. Those were the last earthly words Granny heard. My cousin, Steve, called from the funeral home early Monday morning to say that Granny had passed.

At Granny’s funeral, my little sister, Marilyn, read My Anna for Granny's friends and family. It was interesting to hear it in a female voice. Suddenly, I pictured my poem as a mother speaking comfort to her daughter. It was as if I had never known it before.

This Mothers Day I remember Granny Annie, I know that she is missed by many people. To Mom, to all those who miss Granny, and to all those who feel lonely for someone today,

[May] our Lord Jesus Christ himself,
and God our Father,
who loved us
and gave us eternal comfort
and good hope through grace,
comfort your hearts . . .

2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17 (WEB)

Happy Mothers Day

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