I remember when I was a little girl, but I can’t always remember everything. Memories are like dreams that way, blurred at the edges, bleeding into one another, squishing together like clay. I remember when I was a little girl, but already my grandma was becoming an old woman. To me she had never been young, because of my newness, maybe, or because I knew no better.
She was permanently this way. She was a creature made of wrinkled skin and curving bones. I didn’t understand that once she had been like me. Once, my Grandma had been a girl.
She was a daughter, an older sister. She was a best friend. She grew up in East Texas, she lived in East Texas, and she was more than East Texas.
A wife to a bad husband. A mother to three children. She chose to work. She chose to love someone even though they were wrong. She branded cows and fried bacon. She knew she was cheated, but she was never a victim. She buried that bad husband. She lived in the town she was born in. She left that town, and she never looked back. She was told she was wrong. She was accused. She was exonerated. She married another man, and this time she knew she’d married the right one. She loved her children even though they were crazy, because she knew crazy came with youth but didn’t usually stay. She was brave.
She became a grandma. She made sure there were Easter egg hunts and jars filled with candy. She let the grandkids watch whatever they wanted on TV (unless her westerns were on and then they could all go to hell). She never spanked them, but she did fill their ears with knowledge and her two cents and the Republican Agenda. She saw that they were wild and foolish, but she didn’t tell them they had to grow up. She lived up to her own standard, and she let them live up to theirs. She wore fancy dresses to their weddings, and nail art and got her hair done. She gossiped and knew how to shoot the shit better than anyone.
She got the last word. Always.
She got older. She started to feel older, too, but she still cared for the cows and tended her garden. She became a great-grandma, and she kept track of those new kids as well as the old ones. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries. She remembered everything, but let you slide when you needed to. She started to give her granddaughter jewelry because she wanted to see her face, and tell her why it mattered. She wouldn’t rely on whoever was left behind when she’d finally gone. She wanted her to know, rather than be told.
She got sick more. She lost weight, but not beauty. And finally, one day, she got tired of fighting. She had fought enough. It wasn’t defeat, she said, it was doneness. She wanted to go home. She had made up her mind to go, and that had always been enough to make almost anything possible. She told the doctors no. No more, and then she sat in her living room and looked out over her land.
I remember when I was a little girl, and even with years packed on top, and even with fuzzy lines, I remember this thing for sure:
I told her once that I could not imagine the world without her. She was old then, already, but not as old as I thought, now that I am older. Now that I am closer to grown up. She looked at me, she looked through my eyes and into my soul, and she said, “Someday you will have to, but don’t be sad when that day comes. I won’t go until I’m sure.”
I am still a young woman. Someday, I will be an old woman. That will be a gift. It is not asking too much, even if it is a tall order, to hope to be a woman like her. Our lives are finite, drops in the bucket of time, but they become infinite if we live them with purpose.
She did that. She taught me.