For over 80 years, Grandma Pearl lived in a ramshackled flat in our Southern town's bastion of redneckedness. Her home contained no newness, and if it did, it would have been boxed and stored securely away in the uppermost region of her wardrobe. This was the only real home she ever knew and it was more than enough for her.
Every Saturday Grandma made a vat-sized pot of beef and vegetable soup. That soup would simmer slowly for hours, emitting a fragrance that must be the ambient scent of heaven. It was the embodiment of the only nourishment a soul could need.
Most Saturdays, extended family members would drop in unannounced for a bowl or two, accompanied by numerous slices of heavily buttered, lightly toasted Wonder Bread, and a quart-sized glass of sweet tea. Grandma would say "Go pick out your spoon." I would dig through her drawer of worn dimestore flatware for my just-right spoon. Sometimes I would find it in the sink, recently used by a previous soup-eating family member. "Wrench it off," Grandma would instruct. Under her tutelage I had learned that there were few dirty needs that a sprinkling of Tide powder and some water wouldn't cure. That spoon was the crowning joy of my humble feast. It was my favorite spoon after all.
Some Saturdays no one showed up. And there sat Grandma with a big ol' pot of soup with no one to eat it. Yes, we were complacent about the nest she provided, taking for granted that she would always be there with her pot of soup--waiting for us. I hope she experienced glimpses of how we felt about her. She was the rock upon which our family's church was built.
Poor poor poor is what my Grandma was but she stretched everything as far as she possibly could. And I mean down to the penultimate penny. In many ways, she had the richest life of anyone I've ever known. She gave with every ounce of herself.
Years later, while visiting from NY for my Uncle Emo's annual family reunion, I saw Grandma for the last time. She was seated at a shaded table, staring at something in the far distance only she could see. "Hi Grandma," I said as I sat across from her. She looked at me, quizzically. Suddenly a light of seeming recognition appeared in her eyes. "Oh I know you, did your husband come with you?" I had been married for approximately 20 minutes a thousand years prior, and she had never met the bastard. She had no idea who I was. At that moment the earth opened and swallowed me right up. Grandma Pearl had died right before my eyes. A certain veil settled over my life that remains to this day.
About three years later when my Grandma left this scorched ol' nasty world for real, the loss I felt was nowhere near the stinging heartache I experienced under the shadows of that oak tree in Uncle Emo's yard.