Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Silver Lady, Tiny Lady

The 4:15 Arkansas-Missouri blew its whistle, jolting me out of a panic attack induced by a silver-haired twig of a woman shaking a butcher knife in my face.

"What are you doin' in the kitchen, little girl? Go play with the other children!"

Little girl? Good grief, she has no idea who I am. I immediately dropped the half-shucked ear of corn, said, "Yes, Grandmother," and began backing out of the kitchen.
Tina "Tiny" Isabelle laid the butcher knife on the counter, harrumphed, and shuffled off to continue her daily chores. Supper can wait. It'd been twenty years since I first met my father's family when I was fourteen years-old. Back then, Grandmother Tiny, a good-natured, hard-working country woman, cooked for and cleaned up after five grown sons, two grown daughters, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Grandmother didn't have to ring the dinner bell twice. Each family member reported to the table on time, and no one complained about the menu. They ate the food set in front of them--every last bite--and thanked her for it before leaving the table. After dinner, the youngin's went back outside to play, the menfolk gathered on the front porch, and the womenfolk helped with clean-up--supervised by Grandmother with love in her heart and a smile on her face.

Twenty years and two strokes later, her reality had regressed to the 1940s, and Grandmother no longer possessed the patience of Job. Supper could wait. I followed my grandmother, at a discreet distance, into the parlor and watched her perform the imagined chores of long ago. Fingertips grazed porcelain figurines, making certain all remained in their proper places. A gossamer hand patted the arm of the faded velvet settee, swept over the Tiffany lamp shade, and brushed across yellowed ivory keys of the heirloom upright piano.

Grandmother then tottered to the front porch where she chattered to the barn swallows building nests beneath the eaves. Her words weren't coherent, but that didn't matter to the swallows. Reassured that all was as it should be in her world, "Tiny" Isabelle sat down on the porch swing, wrapped her arms around her midriff, and began to softly sing, "Hush-a-bye, don't you cry, go to sleep my little baby"--swinging back and forth until she sang herself to sleep.

For a brief moment, I saw myself as the imaginary baby cradled in my grandmother's arms.
Now, I'll fix supper.

~ leh