Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am a Texas girl, born and raised. My grandparents were old enough to be my great-grandparents, but they reared me. Engulfed in Southern culture and Southern COUNTRY culture, I spent my formative years on the farm. Unlike others my age, I knew how to bottle-feed a cow, husk corn, and snap peas.
Fed from the produce picked from the garden and the meat from animals raised in the pasture, my life was unusual for a Dallas girl.
Born in 1912 and living through the Great Depression, my grandpa taught about being frugal and ensuring I secure employment at an occupation that would always be necessary even if the economy collapsed.
Though stern most of the time, my grandma taught me that singing and dancing skills, no matter how unconventional, were necessary when the time came to cut loose.
Together they showed me what true love was. After 63 years of marriage, they loved each other just as much the day my grandpa passed as the day they entered into marital bliss. I don’t believe I will ever know a love so deep and honest, but I know it is possible because I witnessed what they had.
She sits on the porch. Her old, pale blue, watery eyes watch as the world she used to live in passes by her. A while back, it couldn’t have been too long ago, she was alive. Not alive in the breathing sense, but alive because she was experiencing life. Visiting friends. Driving to town. Fixing meals for eager mouths. Now her friends have found their way home to be with The Father. The thought of getting behind the wheel of the car sitting in her drive would be crazy, even too crazy for her, she thinks. She almost allows herself to smile. All those hungry mouths she used to feed are off somewhere far away or just on the other side of town and fixing meals to feed the eager mouths depending on them.
No, she thinks, I don’t live in that world anymore. The world I live in is very different. I live in a world filled with loneliness and self-loathing. I am an old, forgotten memory to those who used to center their world around me. I am a birthday card in the spring. A passing thought in the summer. A phone call in the fall. A Christmas card in the winter. I am trips to the toilet that fall short in the middle of the night. A mind that crumbles more each day. A sagging bag of flesh. I am a broken heart.
Some days she thinks she will not sit on the porch. When she is not there, the trip just doesn’t seem worth it. In the past, she could have been dressed, out the door, and seated in seconds. Now, seconds became a journey. Tired old hands pushed on the overstuffed chair, forcing her to stand on weak legs. Once in a semi-upright position, the best she could hope for these days, she began the trek to the closet. There she dressed, or the now-accepted equivalent for “dressed.” The cold metal walker led the way. Her ultimate destination, the porch, was, ironically, just steps away from where she sat and pondered the journey. But even at this stage in her life, she somehow kept a shred of dignity. She wouldn’t go out of the house in her nightgown.
Once at the closet, it was a balancing act. One wrinkled hand gripped the walker. The other fumbled for a robe to go over the nightgown she would wear all day. Robe off the hanger, the trick became getting it on and buttoned. Getting one stick-figure arm in the robe was easy. Getting the robe’s opening low enough to put the other limb through was the issue. Spindly arms in, skeletal-like fingers began the slow, tedious buttoning process. On a good day, she would button the robe correctly on the first try. On a bad day, she would not. On bad days, she would have to repeat the dreaded buttoning process, no matter how the joints in her fingers screamed and begged for mercy. She would not be seen with one side of her robe longer than the other. She wasn’t quite sure whom she believed might stop by. Maybe that was the day one of her grandkids or great-grandkids planned to surprise her with a visit. She wouldn’t let them see her that way. Though her house didn’t feel much like a home anymore, it was better than the alternative. If they saw that she couldn’t dress right, they might decide she couldn’t care for herself any longer. Off to the nursing home. Just over a missed button or two.
With the robe correctly buttoned, she retraced her steps and headed for her destination. Slow, deliberate efforts made by tired, old feet. Feet that used to walk through soft grassy pastures. Feet that used to wade in cold running streams. Feet that used to run across warm, sandy gardens. Aching hips. A brittle back that could break any time. Muscles, not even sure they were muscles anymore, cried for repose. But that plea would go unanswered until she felt the warm sun on her skin. Once in the cheap plastic chair, she could rest.
No, some days, it does not seem worth it to sit on the porch and watch the world where she once lived pass her by. But she knows she has to. Besides, some days when she’s out there, she thinks about him, and she is no longer on the porch in that plastic chair. She is transported to another time. Another place. A place where her white hair is once again jet black. A place where her old, pale blue, watery eyes are still bright, untainted by the world. When she’s with him, she is alive.
Some days they meet for the first time. She’s on a date with another boy. He is with another girl. She isn’t impressed with him. Not at first. The handsome ones, in her limited experience, are never very nice. He’s the exception. Her date wants to pal around with the guys, and his to go home early. He asks if he can walk her home since they’re both free. She consents. He offers his jacket as protection from the chilly night air. The old, brown corduroy envelopes her with the smells of fresh farm air and hard work. She gets to her door. He shyly asks if he can see her again. His eyes cast down sheepishly at his shifting feet. When she agrees, his whole face lights up. His bright blue eyes smile at her the same way they would five children and 60 years later.
Some days he returns from the war. His lonely shadow fills the driveway as he slowly makes his way home. Two years away on some foreign land seems to have taken away his innocence and removed a bit of his zest for life. He gets to the door, and their eyes meet. Both sets brim with tears of joy and sorrow. When they embrace for the first time in an eternity, the longing for one another overpowers them. The love they make that night, she is sure, is the sweetest ever made.
Some days, even though she tries not to allow it, he leaves. She sits with him in the cold, sterile hospital room. It’s a far cry from their warm, cozy home. She holds his hand as life begins to leave his body. The same bright blue eyes smile at her as if to let her know it’s ok to let him go. He lifts a feeble old hand to wipe away the tears falling down her cheeks. She takes his tired hand once again and presses it softly to her lips. He closes his eyes and fades away.
No, she does not live in the world in which she once lived. She can no longer find the will to return any more. So, she sits on her porch and goes to a place only she can go. A place where she is no longer lonely. A place where he is always there to greet her with smiling blue eyes. A place she calls home.