I have just received word that my grandmother, Juanita Bane, has died around midnight US time. This is my mother’s mother. The day before we left for Tanzania, my mom called to tell me she was being put in hospice, so we’ve been expecting this and we’ve known this was coming for even longer. The last few times I visited her, I was pretty certain she had not known who I was. She had been in a nursing home for a few years now, and while at times she was relatively lucid an in decent health, more times than not, she’s been unwell. While it is a strange thing to be so far away from family and friends during this milestone in our family’s history, I cannot say I am particularly saddened by the news. I loved my grandmother, but she’s much better off now than she has been trapped in such a sickly body; it feels like my grandmother actually died years ago. So here are a few reflections in honor of my grandmother.
Orange marmalade. If there’s one thing that always, without fail, makes me think of my grandmother, it is orange marmalade. My sister and I would often spend the night at my grandparents’ house, and every morning, there would be toast and orange marmalade. It was a staple and a treat, and for whatever reason has engrained itself in my mind as a symbol of happy childhood times. Oh, and apple turnovers. Those, too.
My mamaw played the piano/organ at Highland Baptist Church for 40 years or o, so when I was kid, she would always be in her choir robe at the front of the church when we arrived in the sanctuary. We’d run up and see her before and after the service. This special role during the service made her a bit of a rock star, and me cooler by way of association.
I took piano from my grandmother for a little while, as she was also a piano teacher. I never could get into it, so I eventually quit taking lessons. I kick myself for that now.
I am actually at this moment not even sure how old she was because for most of my childhood, she always said she was 39 years old, then maybe a few years older as time progressed, but I never could get a handle on her age. That is funny to me.
Mamaw loved butterflies.
Mamaw also loved soap operas. There was always a soap on the TV.
I have always held my grandmother up as an example of a loving wife and a woman of quiet strength. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and went downhill over the years to a state where everything had to be done for him, and my grandmother took care of him at every step of the way. I am sure it wore her down, but I don’t ever remember her complaining about it. She just took care of her husband until his death. Consequently, after he died, I am not sure she ever really figured out what to do with herself.
My grandmother loved parakeets, and she always had birds at her house. She would also time and again have fish, and I remember as a kid preparing the fish tank for the new arrival of guppies and the like. Speaking of pets, many years ago, my grandmother’s last parakeet had died and she was without a pet bird, so I bought her a new bird for her birthday. She named it “CJ” after me (Christopher Joel). Eventually, she bought another one to keep the first one company, and lo and behold, the two birds ended up having babies (which is not unheard of but rare for pet parakeets). They ended up having 5 baby birds. What dividends on my initial investment! That was the best $20 I ever spent on a birthday present.
My mamaw was one of my greatest supporters over the years, whether it was showing up for countless school performances, hanging my artwork in her house, paying a portion of my car loan while I was in Americorps*NCCC and making little money, to my decision to become a Catholic. She always seemed proud of me and was always happy to see me.
Erica went through a huge process of scanning all the old photos they found when they cleaned out her house a few years back; when I saw all these old pictures of her as a child, I realized that I really didn’t know much about my grandmother, about her life as a child, as a young woman, etc. She’s always just been my mamaw. It’s hard to pull out specific memories about someone who always seemed to be there, a constant over all the years of my life. I will miss her, and I loved her very much. She played a role in who I am today, and I am grateful for that. I am sorry that time and distance prevented me from seeing her more over the last many years, but such is life, and she understood. She was a good woman and great grandmother, and I know she’s been reunited with all her loved ones who have passed on before.