I was standing in my mother’s driveway. I had driven over after being told there was something I needed to hear in person. I think I already knew, but I wanted to wrap myself around that shred of hope that I was wrong.
“The lump on Memaw’s neck is cancer. It’s aggressive. The first thing she said after the diagnosis was, ‘How will Jodi handle this?’”
I loved, and still love, my Memaw fiercely for as long as I can ever remember. I clung to her after a surgery to remove a cyst from my eyelid, as my Mother has been the one to hand me to the doctors. A visit from Memaw was the only thing I wanted for a birthday spent far from her; me in Texas and she in Ohio. Memaw flew out to be with me.
She taught me to collect eggs from the chicken coop, still warm from the hens. She busted my tail when I fooled around and dumped half of the eggs onto the ground. We put fertilized eggs in the incubator in the house and I marveled over and over again with my cousins as we witnessed new life breaking free of the shells. We played with the chicks until they were moved to the chicken coop and the process started over again.
After they moved two hours away, I would spend weeks with Memaw and Pepaw. We would laze on the huge porch that overlooked their immense, wooded swath of land while hummingbirds zipped past our heads. There were deer that would approach the porch for the apples that fell from the branches of a tree. Only Memaw could creep out and whisper to them without causing them to bolt. Perhaps they somehow knew of the time she nursed a fawn to health.
We would read books and play cards, gazing out the window to spy the different birds that visited the porch feeder. There were cardinals, blue jays, and a bird with a red head that she referred to only as Jodi birds. Other times we would see wild turkeys wander into the yard, gobbling and fluffing as they approached.
There were games of Scrabble and time spent with puzzles - crossword and picture. There were giggles had while watching hunting videos or Westerns chosen by Pepaw or my uncle. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy without fail. I remember the day where only ‘O’ was revealed on the board and I exclaimed “Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump”, only to have her playfully swat me when I turned out to be right.
Now there was worry and assurances and moments of confusion. There was no treatment that she would endure. There were surprise strokes that left her blinded or confused for minutes. Then it was hospital rooms and stroking those familiar, bent hands that had once stroked my back or tickled me. They were familiar in their softness, in the shape of her nails. But the liveliness wasn’t there.
It took less than a month for the cancer to claim her. As I sobbed violently at her funeral, my uncle tried to reassure me that everything would be alright. I replied, “Nothing will ever be alright ever again.”
She was the glue and the mediator. She was the warmth and the fun. She was my universe and she was gone. She never got to meet my daughter or any of the great-grandchildren she would have fiercely adored.
It will be 15 years in May that she has been gone. I can still hear her laugh and the way she said my name. I can see the way she danced around the house while being silly. I can smell her skin. I miss her terribly. I can only hope that the person I have become is one she would be proud to call granddaughter.
I think that I am.