For Grandma and Grannie. With all my gratitude and love, always.
They stood beside each other at the hospital’s nursery window on the evening I was born.
For one I was the first grandchild.
For the other I was the first granddaughter, following five boys.
The other stepped back so the one could see me better.
I inherited the middle name of one.
I inherited the brown eyes of the other.
One had the name of a red jewel. Ruby.
The other had the name of a white flower. Lillie.
One was born the day after Christmas, in the year of the Lusitania sinking.
The other was born at Eastertime, in the deadly third wave of Spanish flu.
While a young teen, one lost her father to suicide.
While a young teen, the other assisted her midwife mother in delivering babies.
One graduated from high school at sixteen.
The other didn’t finish school, but completed home health certification when I was a child.
I attended her pinning ceremony.
One was married at twenty. She had three babies in three Octobers across nine years.
The other was married at fifteen. She had six babies by the time she was twenty-two.
One outlived two children.
The other outlived four.
One’s marriage lasted sixty-two years.
The other had three marriages. Although she didn’t believe in divorce, she divorced a violent man.
She was widowed twice.
One held me on her lap and read to me.
The other let me open all the bottles in her spice rack to inhale the fragrances.
One held me in her arms when I was a baby laboring for breath—rocking, singing, weeping, until my asthma subsided.
The other brought 7-Up when I was a schoolchild home sick with stomach flu, vomiting all day.
One learned how to drive under the instruction of her twelve-year-old son (my father).
The other learned how to drive in her fifties, as did her daughter (my mother).
One wrote me letters and kept diaries.
The other took me shopping when I needed shoes.
One played the piano. I sat beside her, harmonizing on all the old hymns in musty, well-worn books.
The other carried only Aigner purses. She bought my first one, as well as my first birthstone ring.
One gave me her prized antique locket.
The other gave me her mesmerizing floating opal.
One shielded her fair skin with a straw hat and long sleeves all summer.
The other’s olive skin just browned more in the sun.
One lived deep in the country, in a little white house that will forever seem to me a corner of Heaven.
The other lived in town, in a big house of mysterious angles and shadows, once nearly destroyed in a fire.
Both houses are gone, now.
One could make any flowering thing thrive. In the garden, the orchard, the African violets in her window.
So could the other. She resuscitated more than one of my houseplants.
One made the best collards I ever tasted, although the smell while cooking would knock you down.
The other made a glorious rum cake for holidays, although that first whiff upon removing the Tupperware lid would knock you down.
Both made killer potato salad.
One sent me money to buy an Easter dress every year until I was in my thirties.
The other randomly surprised me with things like satin boxes of Valentine chocolates and by coming to my school plays.
One went faithfully to church.
So did the other.
One told me I was a good mother and that she was so proud of me.
So did the other.
One battled dementia for a short while.
The other had open-heart surgery and battled diabetes and dialysis for years.
One died three days shy of her ninety-first birthday, in a nursing home.
The other died at eighty-one, in a hospital.
They sat beside each other one summer afternoon long ago, at my wedding.
They taught me everything about sacrifice and survival.
They walk with me for as long as I live.
Fashioned and faceted,
I am who I am
because of one
and the other.
My grandmothers, Ruby and Lillie, at my wedding.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 7, I am writing around a word beginning with letter g. “Grandmothers” came immediately to mind.