The gift of awe

In remembering my grandmother
on her hundred-and-seventh birthday
I suspect she never thought about
her stories as gifts
in living them
then giving them

for so many are laced
with a palpable sense of awe:

witnessing the birth
of her sister’s first child
the doctor gently molding
the baby’s little head
with his hands…

the family dog that was stolen
yet found his way home again
after chewing off the chains
and wearing his teeth to the gums…

seeing a doe with white-spotted fawns
crossing the old dirt road
for occasionally a doe had twins
(and once, only once in her ninety years,

taking her turn sitting
with a neighbor lady
who was dying
(as farm communities did
long ago
before the advent
of nursing homes
or hospice)
when the woman
unresponsive for days
suddenly sat up
right at the last
her face aglow
crying out
Can you hear them?
Can you hear them?
(—who, Grandma?
I asked as a rapt child
noting how her own face shone
with an otherworldly light
her blue eyes far away
then coming back again
to rest again on me
with certainty:
I am sure it was

and snow
and icicles
as big around as her arm
hanging from the eaves
the whole fierce, sparkling beauty
of it all
(not to mention Christmas)…

oh and birds
especially cardinals
(red birds, she called them)
and hummingbirds
in fact, many ornaments
in her house
were birds:
a crystal hummingbird
hanging in the hall archway
on the shelf, an eagle
spreading its wings
on the high-back piano
robins watching over a nest
filled with babies…

and music
and flowers

every single red poinsettia…

in remembering her stories
I realize
that this constant capacity for awe
may well have been
her greatest gift
of all

The poinsettia my husband and I place in church at Christmas comes home to live between Grandma’s piano and organ. Grandma’s funeral visitation was on the bitter cold, starry night of her ninety-first birthday. At the service the following day, her tiny hometown church was still decorated with red poinsettias.

I still marvel at the perfection.

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