I’m away at a clergy day, at the Morton Arboretum. It is beyond beautiful. Like those Christmas Card images of snow on trees and vast amounts of space. A winter wonderland, untouched by the city stains that turn snow to sludge to mush to gross. We spent the morning singing and in prayer, and, ever the skeptic, I expected to be annoyed by the singing. To my shock and delight, it was actually pretty great. And moments of stillness filtered in and space opened and coffee made its way to me and all was right with the world.

When I saw my mother had left a voice mail on my cellphone, my heart instantly leapt to my grandmother. Lent seems to be her dying season. This time last year we got the “she’s dying tomorrow, get your ass home” rally cry. Not only did she not die, but she got, if not better, she got stable. She has remained under hospice care.

The hospice nurse called my mom, who is understandably in shock. She thinks my grandmother has maybe a day or two left. I am looking at plane fares. Debating between church responsibilities and questions of the needs of my soul, my heart to see that face just once more.

She has let go of me, in her memory. But I have not let go of her. Bloated and changed, helpless and different as she looks in a hospital bed, she is still the face that showed me what joy looks like, that etched on me my belovedness. Hers is still the face of heartbreak and wondering what could’ve been done differently, of wondering how to fix a person who is broken. Hers is the face of love, of patience, of despair and of hope. Hers is the face of a grandmother.

i’m still here!

Hi y’all (if anyone is still out there!):
I’m still here.
I went away on vacation in mid July–hands down one of the best vacations in years. If I can’t get out of the States to go trail-blazing in Spain or hit the Holy Land to get a little closer to those roads that JC walked, send me to my native land of fried okra and heirloom tomatoes out of my parents’ garden. Leaving Athens, driving to Florida (private frickin’ beach, off season, y’all–I saw 4 other people on the entire beach while I was there–paradise), the cooler was packed with veggies out of my mom & step-dad’s garden, as well as veggies from my papa & his beloved’s garden. It was heaven. We had cold cucumbers and tomatoes for lunch for days and it made my heart happy. Almost as happy as seeing all the people I love.

On my last day (last hour) in Athens, I sang happy birthday to my grandmother, on her 90th birthday. We sang it 6 times and each time it was new to her and she was delighted. “Sarah, hurry up and cut me some of that cake. I’m hungry!” (And how great does my mom look?)

I also spent a little bit of time in Decatur and saw a friends from college that I haven’t seen in years, which made me unbelievably happy. And a really bad movie: A Simple Plan. Don’t watch it. It’s awful. I mean really bad.

And there was the beach–books and dolphins and sand dollars and blueberry pie and wine and sun and Monopoly and no internet (save my iPhone–but even so, no email for 12 days!) and sea kayaking and a lost $300 pair of Rx sunglasses and seashells and green beans and coffee and no mosquito’s and coconuts from the trees and the priest at Mass who forgot to consecrate anything but the priest’s host and figured no one would notice if he just threw some unconsecrated wafers in the ciborium (I noticed), Scrabble and margaritas and sunsets and it was all over far too soon.

Since I’ve gotten back it’s been work and life. I’m turning over story ideas in my head which I have yet to get on paper. I’m a bit homesick for the South, which, having been so eager to leave, always suprises me a bit. Pepper, a 5 month old black lab spent the weekend and I remembered with joy how much fun it is to have a dog around, and also, bittersweetly, knew the loss of Micah even more deeply. I’m not ready–not yet–for another dog. But I’m open to the possibility. In time.

There’s more to write, but not now. For now I drink coffee and wonder about Stewardship and the Virgin Mary (not as far apart as you might think!) and step forward, one foot in front of the other, in this strange land I call home.

telling stories

have i ever told you that my grandmother, paternal side, was a foot model? it’s true. it was either the 40s or the early 50s. hers were the feet you’d see in the catalogs of with fancy shoes. my father tells me that she had tons of them, sometimes getting to take home the shoes she’d worn for a photo shoot. best of all, she had a gigantic picture of her beautiful feet hanging over the fireplace. words can not describe for you how much i wish i had this photo. it was destroyed in an apartment fire long before i was ever so much as a glimmer in my father’s eyes, so it lives on now only in memories and story telling. somedays, more than anything, i wish i had inherited her feet.

 i never knew her–not really. once when i was maybe 5, my father, my sister and i trekked from georgia to tampa florida. i remember the small cramped house, sharing the study, made into  a makeshift bedroom with my father, shasta cola in different flavors and my sister’s leopard patterned bathing suit. my sister is 8 years older and we have different mothers, so she lived with her mom in boston most of the year. the summer’s were the greatest time because she’d come to visit and there was no brighter star in the sky than my big sister. and she swam in the ocean without the assistance of floaties on her arms and worn that leopard bathing suit and was, as far as i could tell, at the age of 13, the most perfect example of what humanity had to offer the world.
my grandmother was quiet. she must have been sweet to me. in the mail, on my birthday that year, she had sent me a double deck of playing cards with an orange and white cat lifting up its paw as the decoration for the backside. also inside the package was a small dimestore purse, black with plastic beads of red, yellow and blue. these are the only childhood material memories i have from her and though they are long gone, i can still see them clearly. years later my sister gave me a set of her rosary beads. she figured i’d know what to do with them. every time i move they find a new place in my home, never quite right, always seeking their niche. they are plastic and scented with a horrific permi-rose smell, and they live inside an octagonal plastic box containing an image of a 20somthing Mary.
a year or two later, she came to visit athens and stayed in our house and my father made spaghetti sauce that was too hot for her and her husband (her fifth and final husband) and it made her eyes water. she cried a lot, i think.  my father still recalls with deep gratitude that my mother helped her dress, as grandmother’s dementia was pretty far gone by then and she would come out in states of undress, shirts on backwards and inside out. with the failure of my father’s spaghetti sauce, we ate at the china boat restaurant, which went on to become thai of athens. i hear that it has since closed.
in march of 1979, in the midst of weather reports saying snow would come to athens, my father, my mother and i traveled in our new, blue ford LTD to florida. i wore a hand-me-down dress all day and cried because i thought my father must be so sad to have his mother die. we stayed with his aunt rosatha, who was not used to children and did not allow me to play her piano because my fingers were likely to be sticky. at the funeral home there was an open casket which i thankfully do not remember.
when everyone else had left the graveside, her blue metal casket a top the mounds of red clay, the grave keeper tried to push us away. my father would have none of it. he would not leave until he threw dirt on his mother’s grave. and though i did not know what it meant, at his bidding, i followed his lead. the three of us stood there, watching the working men cover the sky-blue metal box, scoop after scoop, shovel after shovel. we were the last to leave the smell of turning earth.