A few weeks ago, my grandmother died.
She died of Alzheimers, and has had the disease for around 15 years. Doctors have been mystified as to how she had lived through such torture for so long. Finally, at the end of July, she was able to rest and become whole again.
COVID-19 put a whole new layer into the grieving process. No one was allowed in the memory care facility due to an outbreak. The visitation was limited to 10 people in the room at all times, and the funeral was completely spaced out with limited capacity. We wore masks the entire time (have you ever had a sobbing fit under a mask? It’s not my favorite).
I was able to be one of the family members to speak at her funeral. I wanted it to be loose, casual, off the cuff…but I should know better, because that’s not my style. I started to write, and the following came out. I wanted to share what I wrote with you, because my Memaw was a beautiful soul, and to know her is to be better.
In the middle of my living room sits a coffee table. Made of wood, circular, edges worn down by time. Before it sat in my living room, it sat in Memaw’s living room. When my daughter Kinleigh first learned to walk, she would grab onto the sides of that table and walk laps and laps, just like I did before her, like Kyle, Karly, Cody and Cole…all of us did. In almost every Skinner family picture taken at Memaw’s house, you can see her table in the frame.
In many ways, Memaw was just like that coffee table- strong, supportive, long-lasting, and always there, always present, even in my earliest of memories.
When I was little, there came a point and time in my life that my dad and I needed a place to stay. Memaw never hesitated; she gave us a home filled with joy and stability during a time in our lives when stability was hard to come by. I could count on the fact that at least 2 nights a week, my days would be filled with her giving heart, her goodness and her love.
What did that love look like?
Love looked like games of hide and seek, when I always hid behind the same big gold curtain and held my breath so that she couldn’t see me move, as she pretended to look in all different places as though each time was the first time I’d hidden there.
Love tasted like turkey and cheese sandwiches- a taste I could never figure out how to replicate, no matter how often I’ve tried to make them exactly her way. White bread, butterball turkey, mayonnaise…or was it miracle whip? I never could figure out why hers were the best.
Love felt like playing under a fort made of a card table, every homemade quilt in the house…and books. Always books. Picture books that were falling apart, coloring books, books that had been well-worn and well-loved, that had been read by all of the grandkids at one time or another. It felt like a family game of Pictionary, one where Memaw never understood what the card said and always spent her turn laughing so hard that she couldn’t stop, drawing maybe 1 to 2 lines or circles at most.
Love sounded like a larger-than-life laugh, one that burst out of her tiny body without warning. Memaw always looked like she herself was surprised at its volume. It sounded like a living room constantly filled with family, laughing, teasing, playing games, always celebrating life together. It sounded like the exclamation of “Catherine? Oh, I forget no one calls you Catherine anymore,” even though she was the only one I didn’t correct about it.
Love smelled like homemade chocolate pie for any and every special occasion, a recipe that I still get to enjoy thanks to the many cooking lessons she gave Karly. It smelled like melted Mr. Goodbars that were hidden in random drawers all over the house so that no one else would eat them. It smelled like cheese enchiladas a la Carte at Campo Verde, her scrambling to find change so that each of her grandkids could take a turn at the crank machine, trying to win some kind of small plastic cup that just took up space in her hallway closet.
This love has crafted and molded the person I am today, or at least the person that I want to be, that I try to be.
As an adult, people often say how much I am like my dad. I am meticulous, a hard worker, someone who loves a plan so much that I put together a binder with dividers for a Disney World vacation…I get things done. However, the more I’ve been looking back at Memaw’s life, the more I see her fingerprints on the person I am today. She was a hard worker, a fast learner, and a devoted wife and mother. Memaw played many roles: switchboard operator, secretary, housewife, you name it. Later in life, Memaw did data entry and was able to pay off both her house and her car while my Pepaw was sick with cancer. Regardless of her job, role, and life situation, Memaw pushed to make it the best possible situation for her family, without complaint, with a smile on her face. That’s the kind of woman I want to be; relentlessly making the world a better place for the people I love, and finding joy in everything along the way.
The coffee table in my living room isn’t going anywhere. Sure, it’s getting older, the scuffs around the edges getting more prominent, but like any table, it’s meant for gathering people together. Our memories do the same. To be a part of my family is to be a storyteller. It’s something we do every time we get together. A couple of days ago, my daughter asked me if I had any “great stories” about Big Memaw. We laughed, I cried…and I could breathe a little easier. The memories we have will become stories we tell, over and over until we have them memorized backwards and forwards. Memaw is no longer with us, but she will always be with us in the way we love each other and the way we continue to share her stories.
Memaw, I love you. Thank you for loving me, during good times and dark times. Thank you for never making me feel any other way but special, cherished and loved. Give Pepaw a hug for me, and save a spot for me on your Pictionary team in heaven.