I was thinking today about my grandmother. We called her Murry, or Mur, and I have no idea why. I was the sixth grandchild, so I didn't have any say in the matter. We called my grandfather Pa. I was only eleven when Pa died, and I don't remember him well. Mostly I remember him just like in the photo above, sitting in a recliner with the newspaper. He was a quiet, tired man.
But I remember Mur well. We visited every summer of my childhood, spending a couple of weeks reconnecting with the dozens upon dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins who still lived in Mt. Vernon and Dix, Illinois. She had a wonderful sense of humor, dry and witty. She made big home-cooked meals. She had the soft southern accent that comes from growing up in Southern Illinois. She said "warsh" and smelled like the most wonderful powder. We pulled taffy and sat on the front porch, watching the fireflies on a hot July night in the midwest. We spit watermelon seeds and salted fat tomatoes that cousin Clint brought over in his garden basket. We took car rides and bought ice cream cones for Jeannie, her little dog. People called her "Helen," and I was glad my middle name was hers.
Yesterday was her birthday, and she would have been 117 years old. I can't quite wrap my mind around that, yet my own mother is now 82 years old. Mur died 25 years ago, when I was a freshman in college. I remember getting that phone call early on a February morning, and sobbing on the cold metal stairs. I loved my grandmother. I didn't know her the way my older brothers did, who knew her when she was younger and when we lived just an hour away. But I knew she was glad to have me, the granddaughter after a long chain of grandsons. She bought me my first pink dress, that hangs in my closet still (my own daughter wore it for her first Sunday in church, age 9 days), and her china, edged in pink roses, graces my table each Christmas day.
These are the things I remember: the way her nylons sagged at the ankles, her brown shoes. The way she put on lipstick when the doorbell rang. How she said, "It's your time" when it was my turn to play in a game. How soft she was, and how much she loved us.