I believe in the patience of grandmothers.
Mine, Grandma Naomi, sat in a pine spring rocker with blue cushions. Her debilitating stroke years earlier confined her to chairs, hers with wheels or others provided where she found herself. When standing, her walker skidded in front of her shuffling feet that I can barely remember her raising off the floor as she moved.
When still very young I would listen to her pre-dawn stirrings unaided by alarm on Sunday mornings. I heard pained exhalations as she swung her legs off the bed, the creaking walker straining under her weight as she pulled on her dress. She labored past my sofa sleeping place to the kitchen where she would rattle the pans in start of breakfast that my family would finish preparing.
Grandma would put me to buttering toast, my sister pouring orange juice, my father flipping eggs. We all had our job. At Grandma Naomi’s house all things moved slowly like her methodical finger pressing the crumbs of egg and toast against the plastic table cover, pinning them down, flattening them into morsels of food again that she brought to her mouth, breakfast after breakfast.
At the sink Grandma and I would gather, she to wash in elbow high suds, me to dry and put away. A mother through the depression who raised eight children to adulthood she knew no automatic dishwasher like ours at home. We would talk or work in silence, my grandmother and me, one of her twenty-four grand children. Our bond needed no explanation beyond the cookies and hugs of infrequent visits.
Later when I was eleven, Grandma visited my family. Her late seventies brought no resurgence from the stroke and Myasthenia gravis atrophied her strength even further through unresponsive muscles. In the late morning she sat in the blue cushioned rocker while all others drove to town.
Alone, I remained to care for Grandma. She had a walker, a wheel chair, a boy and a full bladder. She certainly waited, looking to the door until she called me over no longer able to holdout. “Brett, I need the bathroom. Can you help me up?”
I thought I could. Positioning the walker in front of the rocker, I wanted her to pull herself up. The low slung chair held her down and the walker fell back on top of her. We problem-solved together. I stood on the walker, a good eighty pounds. She pulled and I nearly fell in her immovable lap. I sat low off the front and pulled with my might and she with hers, but I could not counter balance the inertia of a sitting Grandma.
I looked uneasily in her eyes that signaled a growing resignation. “You’ll have to pull me up.” We clasped hands and tugged. Nothing. I reached behind her elbows and wrenched. She sounded and my heart dove.
I hurt my Grandma.
“We’ll wait,” she said
My mind raced. I wanted to save her the indignity of fouling the chair. Panicking, I did not know whether to run for towels or down the drive to hurry my family back from wherever they traveled. I wanted to pick Grandma up, to help.
But Grandma had the patience to wait until I found the strength.
I was sixteen and not alone. Five of my cousins, the oldest boys of six of her children each took a handle, three on either side. We lifted her casket and started to walk. I was astonished at how light it felt, how full her church, how tear stained the faces of so many people related and so many more unknown.
Now I believe in my adulthood that we cried for her patience: to endure twelve years of immobility after her stroke, to submit to the care of so many hands, to survive a decade of life without her husband who proceeded her in death, to find time to know each and every one of us in a unique way like washing dishes on a Sunday morning, to love us even more than we could return. We cried a prayer that somehow a little of her patience decided to wait and stay with us.