Updated: Apr 9, 2021
There was an old woman that used to pray for me. She had my name written in her book. Everyday she opened the book and she started praying for the names she'd written there and she didn't quit until she'd finished. She'd been collecting those names for years and she considered thoughtfully whose name she'd write in the book before she did so. She wasn't flippant about it, like, Oh, I will keep you in my prayers. When she said it she meant it.
I'd been speaking at a conference. It was the annual conference for an organization and it was an honor to be their keynote speaker for the weekend. I'd visited with the woman a few times during the weekend just as we ate or as I signed books and she told me about her practice and her book. On the final day I was there she let me know she was writing my name in that book and she said it with a big smile as if I'd won a prize. I had. On some rough days in my life here and there I'd think - well, I know one person is praying for me. And it mattered. To me and to that woman and I'd imagine to God. At least that's the way I believe. She was elderly then. I'm guessing she may have gone on to heaven now and I wonder - What happened to that book? Was it buried with her? Laid between her hands in her casket? Was it inherited by a relative, maybe a granddaughter who decided to keep praying for those names? I don't know why that came back to me today but it did. Maybe it was because of Mama's absence or the presence of the wind whistling strong today up on the hill - a sound that mama loved and found soulful, not lonely.
I've been writing, working on the new short-story collection but I haven't been writing regularly in posts. It's been hard to know what to say since Mama passed away. Not because I have writer's block but because I have so many words. They rumble and tumble through me night and day. Pieces of Mama's story, her childhood, her being here, her being gone. I'm still sorting through her things. She had a lot of things. I laughed about this the other day thinking about my Daddy died way to early and too many years ago. He had fishing stuff and a few tools and car keys and a pocket knife. Daddy who always got socks and new Hanes t-shirts for Christmas and acted like that was just what he wanted. I once bought him a t-shirt that had a picture of a dog on the front standing on his hind legs, wearing a holster and a gun, his two front paws up high and one of them bandaged in a white bandage. Above him were the words - I'm looking for the man who shot my Paw. He wore that shirt till it turned into a rag. If there had been a scrap of it left - I would have kept it forever.
With Mama's things it's too hard to decide. There is some of this and some of that. Things she loved and things she wore. Things that were so much a part of her they're hard to bear. I wore one of her favorite jackets one day until I couldn't anymore. It was too much so I took it off and folded it and put it away. In time - these things change. The sharp edges become softer. But there is no magic number for grief or getting over or getting through. Whatever we like to call it. But - there is a grace of grief. The nature of it has a gentle touch, a whisper that says, It's ok and I understand.
Sister and I have laughed a few times in telling Mama stories or knowing what she'd say about a certain thing or other. These are good days and one thing we are not short on nor will we ever be are stories to tell and share.
A family friend came to visit last month it what we consider paying homage to Mama. Someone she loved who loved her dearly in return. Someone she had influenced in life in a positive way. While he was here I pointed out things around the Ramshackle that I hoped to one day do. My funny dreams of working on a house that the property brothers would gut in a minute (just a good guess). I said see - and French doors one day between the little living room and smaller kitchen would be nice. (I have pictures from Pinterest of French doors of every kind.) He said -
Well you've got a door in your basement I saw. (My basement is basically a crawl space with some stuff shoved in storage under there.)
Oh THAT door. Well, THAT door was from my house I grew up in and when Mama sold the house in a crazed moment of emotional angst I said - By God they can't have that door! That door is coming off the hinges and going with you to Tennessee.
I meant it. And because when I get a little crazy like that the family tries to placate me - the door came off the hinges and went on the moving truck with Mama's things. And also - because maybe they understood it wasn't just any door it was - THE DOOR.
The one that stood between our den (the room we really lived in) and the kitchen. By preference we kept the door closed in spite of the fact that we went through it a thousand times a day, we swung the door shut behind us. In this old door are four large panes of glass. They make a certain rattle sound when the door closes and they have made that rattle sound for over fifty years. The family joke was that the glass didn't break no matter how many angry children, me or my sister, any of the multiple foster children or grandchildren who went through the door. When me and Mama and sister were in the kitchen growing up we could look through the glass and see Daddy sitting in his chair watching TV. And he could see us cooking and eating and hovering and whispering and sneaking snacks and telling secrets.
Back to our friend. He tells me all we need is a little plywood and some nails and I can put that door in for you.
You mean - right here? Between the living room and the kitchen?
So be it. And so it is. THE DOOR is now established in between these two rooms that make up the heart of the house. I had warned him that the only thing he could do to upset me was to break the glass that had withstood so many slams and lives. - This door is a hundred years old - he tells me - I'm not gonna break the glass.
Weeks later I was face-timing with my son in North Carolina without telling him any of this, the door in the screen behind me and he stops mid-sentence and asks - Wait - is that THE DOOR??? I say it is. He can't speak for a few seconds and then he says - I just had so many memories hit me at once. - I know I tell him.
His brother came over to visit (we got hooked on Resident Alien) and he walked through the door on the way to the kitchen and stopped mid stride and just said - Wow, it's like being back there on Lisenby walking into the kitchen!
My sister just stands and opens and closes the door and says - Just Listen!
There's that familiar rattle. And with it there is Daddy in his chair watching westerns and Mama at the stove humming and cooking something and me and sister moving back and forth through that door for years and our Grandmother and Aunt Kate and Uncle John and cousin Deb and everyone from all time and then our children and then - their children.
Sometimes you have to know the important things to keep, be they strange or winsome. Portals through time. The things our memories latch onto and when they do - no one is ever lost but somehow continuing and everything seems it's where it's meant to be.
The wind is whistling wild up here today, the chimes in full swing. Romeo Romeo is curled on the footstool napping. From this chair, where I sit and read westerns, I can see my sunflowers on the counter through the kitchen door. I think about time, the way it flows from one generation to another. And about how it's all one, long, beautiful story.