Sundays at Granny's
By Michele Freeman writing as Michele Vail
THE CREAKING OF Granny’s rocker doesn’t really bother me. But her wheezing sounds do. Heeesshwho. Heeesshwho. Then she starts that load of doo-doo about her funeral. One Sunday a month I get to see her and all she does is go on and on about death and dying and how Great Uncle Albert embarrassed everyone at Aunt Celia’s funeral by making bodily noises throughout the eulogy.
Same rocker. Same wheezing. Another Sunday. I’m sitting on the floor with a thick pack of brand-new crayons with names like Lily Yellow and Silver Dust when I hear Granny’s familiar, “Hetty Sue...”
I look up still clutching the Dragon Red crayon. I’m itching to streak it across a crisp, clean page and knowing just the same I won’t be able to do it with Granny’s bitty-bird eyes on me. I hear her heavy sigh mingle with the creak, creak, creak of the rocking chair.
“When I die, Hetty Sue...when God calls me to go to those pearly gates of heaven, I don’t want no fancy funeral. Just say your good-byes and bury me. That’s all.”
“Don’t like flowers, so none of those at the ceremony. Flowers make me sneeze.”
But you’ll be dead. Way past sneezing at anything.
“And no enlarged photos. Good Lord, do you remember the picture of Aunt Celia? Could count every wrinkle on the poor dear’s face. Eyes like a jackal, too.”
I scribble on the page with the red crayon. The zig zags are like lightning streaks, but the pleasure is gone. Her constant talk about death and funerals...the colors just bleed away. Life is gray around Granny. I’m gettin’ tired of the gray. Momma was always telling me I needed to stop the talking and get on with the doing. I wondered when Granny would stop talking and start doing.
“When are you gonna die, Granny?”
The rocking chair stops. Granny’s narrowed gaze fastens onto my face. “Hetty Sue Rawlins! Do you want me to die?”
Shame heats my cheeks. I looked down at my paper and trace the zig zags with my finger. “ ‘Course not.”
“Asking an old woman when she’s going to die! Bad enough my family don’t want me around no more. Bad enough they stick me in a place like this—this nursing home. Can’t do anything but play bingo. I hate bingo.”
She starts rocking and wheezing again. I pull out a crayon called Sky Blue and make swirls on the same page as my red lightning bolts.
“Everyone’s waiting for me to die, then I won’t be a burden no more. Only pleasure I got left is planning my funeral.” She sniffs, gathers her lacy shawl around her shoulders, and rocks faster. “It’s true, ain’t it, Hetty Sue? Family’s just waiting for me to die.”
“We don’t want you to die,” I mumbled. I bit my lip, then blurted, “But you don’t seem all that interested in living, is all.”
“Still breathing, aren’t I?”
“Breathing ain’t living, Granny. Living is living.”
“Hmph. ‘Living is living.’ What does an eleven-year-old know about living?”
A lot more than eighty-two-year-old.
Maybe I’m just fed up, but for the first Sunday ever, I feel compelled to do more than color and listen to Granny’s death yammering. So I stand, grab a folding chair from the room’s dusty corner, and pull it in front of her rocker. I take her hands, feel skin as soft as cotton, as thin as my coloring paper. “Tell me a story.”
“Don’t know any.”
“What’d you do for the last eight decades? Plan your funeral?”
Granny’s lips twitch. Then the corners lift and she smiles. I feel some of the gray dissipate. There’s color in Granny’s smile. “You got sass, Hetty Sue.” She clenches my hands. “You get that from me. Considering the sensitive nature of my son...of your daddy...it must skip a generation.”
I laugh. And she does, too. It sounds rusty, like an old gate screeching open for the first time after a long rain, but I like it. It’s better than heeesshwho.
“I’ll tell you a story, my dearest.” She lets go of my hands, then pats her lap. I slide off the folding chair, kneel at her feet, and fold my arms across her thighs. Her flannel nightgown is worn and comfy and feels wonderful. I rest my head on my arms and close my eyes. While she strokes my hair with her soft, paper hands, the scents of lilac and baby powder tease my nose. It’s the first time I can remember smelling Granny.
It’s the first time I feel like her granddaughter.
Granny stops wheezing, the chair rocks, but doesn’t creak, and, in a warm voice that sounds like sunshine, she tells me a story.
And not one single person in it died.