Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's a hard-knock life for...never mind

Birdie loved Keebler elves cookies. The Fudge Stripped ones. They have the hole in the center, perfectly positioned to hoist the cookie on your finger and devour it in circles.
I never forget that about her. Or her hugs. Or her red hair. Or the kindness of her spirit. You wanted to be around my Grandma Birdie. You wanted to be close to her, in the same room, the same moment, the same air. You wanted to feel the warmth of her smile on your face, a statement I have only ever made or could ever make about my Grandma Birdie or my mother.
Personally, I always wanted to sit on Grandma Birdie's lap but her legs were too short so I kept sliding off. Instead, I leaned on her, snuggled in next to her, stood in her proximity so she'd wrap an arm around me every once and awhile. Since she died when I was eight, the childlike weight of my not-yet-fully-developed-tall-frame-self wasn't yet laden down with my full-milk fortified bones. So, hopefully, my leaning, snuggling, hugging wasn't too much. Then again, if I'd been too heavy, she still wouldn't have said a word.

Another thing I remember about Grandma Birdie is that her life was hard. Terribly hard. She lived in a home that consisted of one bedroom and a kitchen. There was never any indoor plumbing, though she always kept it clean. Water was pumped from a spring. The bathroom was an outhouse. Baths were taken outside. And that was only her home life.

To survive, my grandfather farmed and she worked at the local restaurant, shedding her joy and cooking around. She worked. She worked hard. She also wrote a column for the local newspaper, including very detailed, personal, and historical stories of her family as Oklahoma Dust Bowl survivors. She was a gifted writer, a talent that attracted friends and family to send letters in hopes she'd write back. Unlike me, she never got the chance to make a living at her passion.

It wasn't until the day she died that anyone, anyone in our family, anyone at all, knew her cancer had returned. She suffered in silence.

She was a cancer survivor and eventually a cancer victim. But she lived her days without complaint. No complaint. None. And when we came to visit, she always had Fudge-Stripped cookies to send back home. They were, no doubt, one of her rare expenditures, rare guilty pleasures. And she gave them away.

I didn't think about her at all yesterday. Not when I was slaving away on a deadline. Not when I was dealing with a health issue. Not when I was gritting my teeth at my house chores - iron clothes, do laundry, pay bills, make chili. Not when I sat in my vehicle turning the key over and over again with no response. And not when I walked into town to deposit a check and then back home again.

It wasn't until the last half mile of my journey, with my body overheated, my hand cramping from carrying my purse and sweater, my feet ready to see home, the thought "dang, cars make everything so much easier" running over and over in my head, that I thought about my pampered existence. That thought always leads me to Grandma Birdie.

The week hasn't been great. The year, really, hasn't been so fab. The same issues I struggle with today I've been struggling with for years. The wars are the same, only the calendar dates change. In the middle of it all, I often wonder why life has to be so hard, why God - like Samantha on Bewitched - won't wiggle His nose and make everything all better.

Then I remember Grandma Birdie. In her kitchen sat a large metal bowl, a drinking ladle hooked on the side. The water was always cool and unbelievably delicious. As a kid, I'd gulp down an entire ladle and wonder why water didn't taste like that back home. Then I'd run outside and forget everything except for exploring the woods, sneaking past the barbed wire fence, and discovering a dinosaur bone, which always turned out to be a cow.

The water came from a natural spring, a spring across the property and down the dirty road from Grandma's house. That was her water supply. That was where she hiked everyday for water, water to clean the dishes, water to bathe, water to fill that metal bowl with the ladle so I could gulp it down at my leisure.

I have no freaking concept of living a hard life.

1 comment:

Catherine Zoller said...

Tara, I'm going to say it again. You really are, bar none, the most brilliant and naturally talented writer I know. I love reading everything you write. I have several other thoughts about your musings, but I will deliver them in person! ILY