She became a widow at 4:15 AM on April 2. I know this because the time is now written in her nonsensical, all caps scrawl on the same refrigerator calendar that holds the birth dates of all her eleven children, thirty-eight grandchildren, and dozens of great-grandchildren.
This notation is different from the others, a memorializing of a finish line instead of a celebration beginning at the starting gate. Yet this is another anniversary to remember, another trigger that will open the floodgates of a lifetime of memories shared with the faithful man who loved her best.
The events that drew us together were fragile at best, tragic at their worst, and a perfect storm of shared accommodations and meals and stories of the past, this present, and our glorious future.
We descended on our grandmother's house in deep Texas in early April while she was gone, back in the city where she and my grandfather spent the majority of their child-rearing years. She was there to celebrate her husband's life before laying him to rest alongside fellow veterans of the second World War. We were there in her empty home unsure of what awaited us - the final chapter of our own dear mother's life or simply another twist in her beautiful journey.
Our story there took weeks to unfold, precious weeks of almost daily dinners with my grandmother. She'd call us to see what she could cook or contribute while we'd scramble to give an answer of an easy collaboration that would leave twelve to eighteen bellies full and content.
When you are one of thirty-eight grandchildren, the number of private conversations with your grandparents who, for the majority of your life, have lived thousands of miles away from you, are few. And yet, they were present at nearly every one of my elementary grandparents' luncheons, hosted or attended dozens of family reunions, always played lifeguard at their backyard pool, gave thousands of pushes to tiny bums seated on the tire swing underneath the old treehouse, scooped just as many ice cream cones on sunny summer days, and planned sleepovers with cousins that could be tucked in deep in the basement where almost a dozen of our aunts and uncles had once bunked.
I've never celebrated a birthday without receiving a card with love from grams and gramps plus ten dollars. Neither have my own children. My grandmother has never looked at me with a blank experession wondering what my name was, a feat I continue to marvel at considering I often falter with only four children of my own. My grandfather never set the wheelbarrow done right before my turn through the bumpy garden.
They set the standard for love among our family, both in their own marriage and in their example of love extended to all those in their family tree. That lineage hangs proudly throughout their home in frames embracing their orginal family of thirteen, in a quilt pieced together with squares done by sisters and daughters and granddaughters, and in the wooden crosses of their precious Jesus who provided the ultimate example of a no greater love.
A family tree, one that blossoms and flourishes from care and attention, is a beautiful thing. One such as mine that springs from roots grounded in the work of a perfect man laying down his life on Calvary's tree, is not only beautiful - it's eternal.
Thank you, Gram, for a month of Sundays that I will not forget. For your love and the intimate conversations, especially for those whispered in long embraces, thank you. Thank you for your life's work as a wife, as a mother, as a grandmother, and as a friend and matriarch in your Texas community of winter gypsies. The world is a better place because of you and my world infinitely brighter. Looking forward to an eternity together united once again with Gramps. Think we'll still be playing cards in heaven...?