When I was growing up, one of my brightest constants was my gramma Arden. It was at her house that the cousins gathered to play -- in the attic dressing up in our mothers' old dresses; in our grampa's garden picking freshly grown strawberries and peas, or the wild raspberries and blackberries that grew alongside; playing badminton in the backyard surrounded by lilacs and crab apple trees and grapes; making dolls from wild flowers and toothpicks; swinging high in the tree nearest the garage, always there was a new swing waiting for us when the other one wore down; or running wild through the cemetery across the field. These were some of the happiest days of my childhood.
(This is my cousin Alison in my mom's first wedding dress and me in, well, I'm not quite sure what. But I love the attitude. And look how Ali rocked those pumps!)
I now call my grandmother Great-Gramma Dot, because that's what my son called her when he was three; when we lost her in a way that seemed too sudden and without warning. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. After three years of mourning and months of grief counseling, I'm only now able to talk or write about her without crying. As a writer, one of the best ways I worked through my grief was to continue to write her letters in a journal. See, my gramma and I were best pen pals; with her absence came a loss of confession and redemption. I was able to tell her anything, trust my feelings with her, and know I would receive wisdom and love in return. Continuing to release those feelings to the universe, in my grief journal to my grandmother, was a saving grace for a woman who knows best how to communicate on paper.
This morning, she was on my mind again, as she is most days. I walk my daughter to preschool because we have the luxury of living basically in its backyard. Every morning, I slip into my gramma's battered old gardening clogs, say a quick hello to her, and then trek my way across the street and back. After thee years of throwing them on out of laziness for errands or to just run across the street to the school this year, I've plum worn them out.
The funniest part about these shoes is that if you knew my gramma, you'd know that she probably got these on sale at Price Chopper or Wayne's drugstore, and she most definitely would never wear them anywhere except in her garden. She'd probably even think I was off my rocker for bringing these home with me after we sorted through and settled her home. Of all things.
Yet, these remind me of the sunny, fun side of my gramma, and not the grief. These make me smile when I slide them on. They remind me of the poem she wrote about the cells of a person that remain behind in your home and on your things. It makes me feel closer to her thinking that maybe, just maybe, there may still be a few cells of hers left in these. Something tangible I can connect to every day. That's what you miss the most when some one's gone.
The sound of their voice laughing, saying "Colleenie!", or telling a dirty joke. The feel of their arms as they wrap you in for a hug, and then hold on longer than you think, but are grateful they didn't let go first. The slightly powdery and floral smell that makes them unique, though you can never quite recreate it because it didn't come from a bottle. The soft, thin, delicateness of their hands, that you wish you'd held more while you had the chance.
These shoes are not my gramma; I know that if I let them go, I am not letting her go. But I've loved being able to walk in her shoes, even if for just a little while. That's the greatest gift you can give back to someone, to live in the grace of the wisdom that they've taught you. I don't succeed everyday, but I'm trying. When these shoes run out, the bigger shoes -- the life lessons, the morals, the love -- will live on for me to walk in, to share, and to hold dearest of all.