I hold my grandson, one day old, so new to the world. He is perfect.
I breathe him in. Koji smells of fresh life, soap and…. clove? I smile at baby’s face. I imagine my grandmother here in the room with me, leaning over my shoulder to see Koji better. She loved babies.
I only saw my grandmother during summer vacation when we traveled from Long Island to my grandparent’s farm in Missouri. After a long trip in a plane and a still long car ride from the airport to Rolla, I knew that there would be sweet clove stick candy waiting for me on her kitchen table. I would open the package and remove one for her and one for me. We’d both smell our candy and giggle, so happy to be together again.
When I was maybe eight years old, Granny purchased a miniature baking set for my sister and me, and we mimicked her every movement as she made a peach cobbler. We rolled the dough with our little rolling pins, placed it over the sweet fruit in our own little pie tins and baked them alongside the large dish in the oven.
When it was cooked, and sat bubbling and fragrant, I was so proud! “Mom,” I called, “look what I made! Would you like a piece?” My mother stopped on her way to the washing machine, glanced on the table and asked, “Alice, didn’t you wash up first? The pastry is grey. Throw that away.”
I examined my hands. The dirt on my fingers was the same shade as my cobbler. I was crestfallen. Granny said, “That looks delicious!” She cut into my small pie, put a large forkful in her mouth and declared, “You are a fine cook. I’ll help myself to another piece it that’s okay.”
My son and his wife are bustling about in the hospital room, changing Koji’s diaper, then giving him back to me. I feed him a little and he begins fussing. Andrew lifts him up and, already an expert, burps his son and hands him back.
“Koji,” I whisper, “you are blessed with good parents.” As was I. Yet I still needed Granny.
“Oh, please let me collect the eggs. I’m old enough now.”
My uncle replied, not unkindly, “No. You’re not. We need those eggs. Go play in the barn with your sister.”
He was absolutely right. I was way too young for that kind of responsibility. I should go play in the barn.
“Granny,” I said in my most grown-up voice, “can I please please please gather the eggs?” I put my hand on top of hers.
Granny touched my cheek. “Of course. You are such a good helper.” She gave me the pail and I went into the coop. I breathed in the smell of the hay and listened to the low cluckings of the hens, lost in the moment. No, this is not the time to daydream, I chided. I carefully placed the still warm eggs in the bucket, shutting the door to the coop behind me. I walked slowly, deliberately back to the kitchen, the eggs slightly rattling. I walked even more slowly. Finally, I made it to the porch and I caught my grandmother’s eye as she saw me.
“Look! I did it!” Distracted for just the blink of an eye, I tripped on the last step. Eggs rolling every which way over clumps of mud and cracking and splatting across the floor of the cement porch, the harsh sound of the metal pail on concrete, an exclamation point to the utter disaster unfolding. I couldn’t move, sobbing, egg on my face, shells in my hair, my knee scrapped and bleeding.
I was inconsolable.
Until Granny pulled me up with her strong, capable hands and said in a voice that sounded like music, “Alice, Alice, are you hurt? Your poor knee,” brushing bits out of my hair and wiping my cheek.
“Oh, Granny, I’ve ruined everything. How can you ever forgive me?”
“Forgive you? This is a happy accident. I couldn’t come up with what to fix for lunch and now I’ve decided. Scrambled eggs. Thank you, Alice.”
I scrutinized the disaster on the floor. They certainly were scrambled.
I helped set the table and went to get the pitcher of grape juice from the fridge. I halfway noticed the big blue bowl that had been full to almost overflowing with eggs yesterday, but today was empty save for one lonely egg in the bottom. “Alice,” Granny called, “do you have the juice?” I shuddered to think of what would happen if I spilled THAT so I put all other thoughts out of my head as I secured the lid and carried it out. I sat at the table, a heaping plate of scrambled eggs on the plate in front of me. I took a bite. They were hot and buttery and salty and scrumptious. I took another and chewed. No egg shells, no specks of dirt. How was that possible? And why was the egg bowl empty? I opened my mouth to put into a question the thought that had burrowed into my mind. Somehow sensing what was to come, Granny declared, “My, this is a wonderful lunch. You really are a good little helper,” and she caressed my cheek.
The thought that had turned into a question became a butterfly and flitted away, and I was left with the knowledge that I was truly and completely loved.
Granny was astute, and knew what I needed to hear. I was a Follower of Rules, and teetered in-between pleasure when I got things right, and despair when I was wrong.
My grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, appreciated that mistakes were never the end of the world and when I was near, her mission was to protect the essence that was Alice. This was never more evident than one summer when I was a surly pre-teenager.
Rolla could be excruciatingly hot and humid in the summer, and my uncles would come in from working in the fields and down a frosty soda in a long gulp. So, Mom had decided that we could have one coke a day. This rule was strictly enforced.
Summer vacations weren’t much of a vacation for my mother. When she was on the farm, she slipped back into the duties and chores she had always done.
I don’t know what got into me that afternoon, but I asked if I could have another soda.
“Alice, didn’t you already have a soda today?”
I had, and I was loath to lie to my mother.
Maybe it was heat stroke or the bite of a poisonous mosquito, or simply the mistake of a normal twelve-year-old, but I committed the one cardinal sin that was sure to lead to my downfall.
“Mommmmm. I’m so hottttttt.”
My mother planted her feet in front of me and put her hands on her hips.
“HOT? You’re HOT? Have you been doing laundry? Mopping the floors? Peeling potatoes?”
In all fairness, I had done none of those things. But I couldn’t help myself.
“Well, no. But look, Mom.” I lifted up my bangs from my forehead. “I’m all sweaty.”
I gazed into my mother’s eyes. I had poorly timed my act of defiance. Because my mom was mad. Really mad.
She ballooned with rage and grew taller and taller until it seemed that her head was scraping the ceiling. At the same time, I had shrunk to the size of the bug that scurried by as it sought shelter from this unexpected storm brewing in the living room.
I was flummoxed.
Then I felt a slight breeze drift near me, the smell of blossoms and green beans and baking bread, and I heard a gentle voice the sound of bells that ring on the ice cream truck,
“What’s going on?”
My mother barely turned her head when she addressed her mother.
“Alice wants a SECOND SODA!”
Granny smiled at me, then smiled at her daughter and softly said, “Oh, Neva let her.”
If my grandmother had picked up the house and hurled it across the fields, I would have been less stunned. Because I was witnessing true magic. She uttered that four-word conjuring and it was as if someone had let the air out of a balloon.
My mother started to shrink. And grow smaller. There was a complete silence in the room but for the ppffftttt of air. Then the true magic happened. My mother was the same size as me, and said in the voice of a girl, “Okay, Mom.”
Granny replied, “Well, there then,” and she caressed my mother’s cheek.
My mother and her mother went back to what they had been doing.
I was paralyzed with wonder. My grandmother had hidden powers! She was a hero!
I hold my grandson tighter. I vow to do my best to treasure my every moment with him, and I am so looking forward to the day I say to my son, “Oh, Andrew let him” and I will be hero too.
The Grace of Grandmothers
I hold my grandson, one day old, so new to the world. He is perfect.