I took a walk with Grandmommy today down the very long driveway at the lake house.
On our walk she decided to tell me that though she had always thought that she wanted to be cremated and put in a little wooden box next to my grandfather in the cemetery in Andalusia, Alabama, where they lived most of their lives together, she had changed her mind.
At 95, though she is healthy, these kinds of things are often on her mind.
Anyway, one of her best friends found out when she buried her own husband that when you are cremated and then buried your ashes are put in a concrete box that looks similar to a child-size coffin. Grandmommy turned to me, grabbed my arm and said, “I’m claustrophobic, I don’t want to be put in a concrete box.”
I said okay, because I wouldn’t want to be put in a concrete box either, even when I’m ashes. It sounds like the fate of a mobster turned snitch.
She said that every year she has magnolia branches put on my grandfather’s grave on October 23rd, the day he died. Her updated burial request is to sprinkle her ashes underneath the magnolia branches on October 23rd, so that when it rains she can just seep into the ground and join with my grandfather—a simple and beautiful request that made me cry because it made me happy and sad at the same time, which is actually one of my favorite things to feel.
I apologized for crying and she said, “That’s okay, Stephie, I understand. But you know I’m not afraid at all to die. I’ve had a really good life. I had parents who loved me, and my brothers and sister. You know, people used to ask my parents who their favorite was and they always said, ‘all of them’. They loved us the same. But we had a favorite. Alice. She was our favorite because she always had health problems.”
Alice was her sister, they were only a year apart. When I knew Alice she was stooped and gnarled with horrible arthritis. She seemed very old, even though she must have been only in her 60’s at the time. She had rows and rows of pills that she had to take several times a day. And she was very sweet. A kind and gentle person with an easy smile. Unfortunately that’s about all I remember. She died a long time ago.
I asked when Alice’s health problems started and she told me a story that made my heart explode with love for her empathetic and generous spirit.
She said, “Oh, it was the worst time possible.”
Alice would have been about age 13, and one day her teacher, who would be today’s equivalent of a P.E. teacher, had the girls walking around with books on their heads—for posture, I assume. That day the teacher sent a note home to their parents saying that she had noticed a curvature in Alice’s spine. Scoliosis. So, 13-year old Alice had to start wearing a plaster cast around her body and she also had to wear special shoes where one heel was larger than the other to even up the length of her legs. A terrible thing for a middle-schooler to have to endure.
Grandmommy said that Alice would cry herself to sleep every night. Grandmommy hated it for her and because she knew her sister so well, she thought that if Alice just didn’t have to wear the ugly, uneven shoes that she would probably be okay with just the plaster cast and maybe she wouldn’t cry anymore.
So the next day Grandmommy took one of Alice’s ugly shoes and buried it in the sage field that was behind their house.
She said that her parents and brothers tore the house up looking all over for the shoe but she never let on that she knew anything about it. She was sure that she was going to get in trouble eventually but, even though she knew her parents must have found the spade she used to dig a hole in the sage field and figured it out, they never mentioned the shoe again. Neither did she. And Alice didn’t cry every night anymore.
I wonder if anyone ever found that shoe or if it is still buried somewhere in Alabama. Probably by now it has long since decomposed and turned back into dust. But I like the idea of that ugly shoe still being out there, a physical testament to Grandmommy’s rebellious act of love for her sister.
I’m so lucky that I’ve had all this time to know her. I’m going to make time for more nice walks with Grandmommy.