“I remember her well,” the old lady said to the young girl sitting beside her. “She was a happy little thing. Innocent of the ways of the world. I remember she loved singing in church and making mud pie cookies. There was a twinkle in her eye that you wouldn’t notice unless you looked for it. Hers was a life well lived.”
The old lady on the bench sat back and stared at the water for a while, lost in her memory. Looking at me, she said, “Actually, you remind me of her. You have the same beautiful brown eyes and that same twinkle, sparkling behind an inquisitive mind. I bet you love music too, don’t you?”
I nodded and smiled. The old woman talked of a girl who was five or six. I was in my thirties. She wasn’t wrong about music, though. I did love it. There was something soul soothing about a good song, especially one that talked about Jesus, or heaven, and love.
“Even in her early years,” she continued, “her faith was strong. She didn’t talk much about it, but she knew God was there, Jesus was alive, and that angels were real.” Looking at the sky, she added, “She would always talk to Him even back then, as if knowing he could hear her, and would answer her questions.”
I watched her as once again she became lost in the memory, staring at the sky, smiling as if hearing someone talk to her. She had mentioned her faith was strong many times before. It was an important fact she wanted noted. “When did things change?” I asked.
“It’s not something she talked about. Some bad things happened in her life. She changed, became quieter, withdrawn. Her innocence disappeared when she realized life wasn’t rainbows and cartoon clouds. She never stopped looking at the clouds or seeing the pictures they shared. She never stopped believing, either. Her faith was strong. Did I say that already? Well, no matter, it was. Too many people these days have stopped believing. They just go through the motions. Don’t let that happen to you, child. Faith is important. More important than anything else.”
“Did she ever tell you about what happened?” I didn’t want to push too hard, but needed her to continue the story. The old woman’s memory came and went, but I felt it was important for this piece of the story to be captured.
“No, but I knew. She was young and forced everything into a box. All her emotions, her pain, her sorrow, stuffed down, and the lid closed. I think she locked it away, forgetting where the key was. Whether on purpose or not, I’ll never know. She never reopened the box. It was too painful. She forgave them, all of them, but she did not talk about it. Then her father left, causing a new pain, and a mistrust in love that would never leave her. It’s sad really.”
She looked at me quietly for a moment, as if deciding what to tell. I sat, waiting, pen poised. The recorder sat beside me to capture anything I missed. I never did take short hand, but had created my own version over the years. Still, I couldn’t always write as fast as some talked. The recorder made sure when I did the rewrite that everything would be there. The emotion, the joy, the sorrow. I would capture and document it all.
“Do you know, even then, at church every Sunday, she prayed for her father? It’s true. At first, it was that he would come home. After a while, she knew that wouldn’t happen, so she changed her prayers. She would ask God to put people in his path who would lead him back to church and keep him safe. She began offering her communion, like a proxy, until he would go back to church. She did that for years, until the year he died, in fact. In the end, he made it back to church, at her urging, but never did go to communion, so even then she took hers in proxy. Half for her, half for him. She had no doubt God understood. God always understood her, knowing what she needed, even when she didn’t.”
“Do you think her father leaving was the reason she never got married?” I asked. It was a question needed to round out the story, and one that many had asked over the years. It was a fine balance between interest and digging. If done wrong, the interview would be over. It wouldn’t matter who I was. She would walk away. I’d seen it before.
“Did she not? Let me think. She had a child. Surely she must have been married, but no, you are right. He didn’t stick. The father, I mean. He was a good-time Charlie. That’s what she called him. ‘Out for a good time, not a long time.’ Sad, really, that things didn’t work out, but she wasn’t surprised. Her heart belonged to another. It was always that way.” Turning to me, she smiled. “She could have been married, you know. There was this one fellow she really cared about, thought she loved even, but he didn’t like himself much, poor fellow. He would find subtle ways to put her down, make her feel less than she was. She was brave then.”
“Brave how?” I asked, waiting for the rest of the story.
“She could have been married, but she chose not to stay in an unhealthy relationship. I think secretly she believed that if he didn’t like himself, eventually he wouldn’t like her, and leave like her father did. Whatever the reason, she did say she knew it was better to be alone than to have someone put you down all the time. Yes, brave. Not that people saw it that way, of course.”
“Nobody should live like that,” I said. “Everyone deserves to be loved, and treated well, by their partner. Do you think he was the reason she never married?”
“No. It was the father. First hers, then her child’s. They taught her that people and love don’t stay, or maybe isn’t love at all. She never trusted herself after that. Not to say she didn’t date, or try for a while, but eventually she just got on with the business of living. One day, she woke up, and she was old and alone. Well, not alone. She was never alone, for He was with her. Her faith was strong. It grew stronger over the years. The harder things got for her, the closer to God she became.”
She turned again and studied me. I sat, waiting, watching her watch me. I smiled. I knew this part of the story well. Folding my hands across the notepad, I sat, waiting until she was ready to continue.
“Her life was hard, but she never saw it that way. Raising a child on your own is difficult at the best of times, but she did her best. She had some good friends who helped her get through. They’re all gone now. Moved on, in one way or another. She doesn’t hear from the ones still living. They come for a season, she’d say. She tried to keep in touch over the years, but she seemed to be the one doing the calling, so eventually she stopped. ‘It’s like trying to chase rainbows,’ she told me once. ‘You know they are there, so you enjoy them when you see them and forget about them when they’re gone.’ Not that she forgot about them, she just didn’t think about them as much anymore.”
She stood up, straightening her pants and adjusting her shirt. I gathered my things, not sure if the interview was over or not, but stood to go where she would lead.
“I need to move. Let’s go to the next bench. I’m not as fast as I once was, but you must keep moving. That’s the secret, you know. You just have to keep moving from one day to the next. Eventually, girlie, you’ll end up here, like me. Remember that, will you? Keep moving. The storms will end, but you have to get through them first. In the end, it’s not about the dreams you had, it’s about the life you lived. Live it well, and walk with God. Everywhere you go, everything you do, child, walk and talk with God.”
I knew that for today, the interview was over. I put my things in the bag that was slung across my shoulder, hooking my arm through hers. “I will, Grandma. I promise.”
She smiled at that. “You have my gift, you know? Not just the writing, but the talking and hearing. I’ve heard you talk to Him, and I know he’s answered you. Never lose that. There is nothing wrong with that kind of love. It is good, solid. His is the only love we need in the end. The rest is nice, but His is the one that matters most.”
I never did get to finish the interview with my grandmother. She died that night in her sleep. My father said she had a smile on her face and looked peaceful. Theirs had been a turbulent relationship, but it had smoothed out over the years and was strong. They loved each other fully, mother and son, despite their challenges. One day he would tell me their full story, to round out mine. It would be the final piece for the book I was writing. A book about love, loss, forgiveness, healing and faith. About a faith strong enough to carry one through any storm, no matter how hard it raged. That was my grandmother’s faith. A faith so strong it endured all her hardships. One passed down and shared with her child and grandchildren.
We wouldn’t know it until later, but this was the greatest gift of our lives. Faith, strong and secure. I like to think she is smiling down on us as she watches us walk our own journeys, bringing God with us at all times. I looked up at the sky from the bench we had sat on that day and smiled. “I hear Him too, Grandma,” I whispered to her. “I hear Him too.”
© Leslie C Dobson
If you liked this faith story you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.