Your Name Was Kate and You Were Beautiful

The author's maternal grandparentsYou said it would probably be the last time you saw me, that wistful summer day. You were frail. The excitement of having me visit for a week in your home, long shared with your youngest daughter’s family, had been too much. You’d had another stroke and were now confined to your tiny, sunny bedroom at the top of that steep flight of stairs, the stairs down which mother had dropped me at the age of 3 months. Father had dropped the buckets of coal he was carrying in, and had caught me.

“Oh, Grandma, I’ll see you again,” I said, at 23 still not knowing what else to say, yet aware we both believed in the life hereafter.

You looked at me and I knew you knew. After the next two weeks of visiting my parents and siblings in the north of England, I’d be returning to the States without coming back to the southern half of the country where I’d grown up. The long walks in the country, through marshy fields of thick green grass and golden buttercups, through woods of oaks and ash trees and glorious swarms of bluebells, were no more for us. The blackberries would ripen without us; the incredibly fragile robins’ eggs would hide from someone else; the stinging nettles would pain another. Even the tadpoles would wriggle in Monks Brook while a different frightened child would be coaxed across the missing planks in the bridge, as mother called encouragement from behind.

Grandma Kate, you would not walk to our house any more to sing hymns on Sunday morning. I would not walk to your house with mother and sister, pushing baby brother in his pram. I had been torn from such activities when father had moved us back to the ugly industrial city of his birth, looking once more for gainful employment.

Grandma Kate, you’d worked as a cook for rich people. Now you would not show me again how to light the gas stove with a match without burning myself, so I could take a dreaded school cooking class without fear.

I looked from your pale yet serene face to the lace curtains letting the sunlight dapple your white hair. Downstairs, a taxi honked to take me to the small airport for the inland flight. I looked back at you and ached for our mutual loss.

“He’s coming for me,” you said. “I saw Granddad and he’s coming to get me. Very soon, he said.”

“Yes, he’ll come back – to get you. And I will see you again, Grandma.”

I hugged you gently and stumbled from the room. Somehow I found my way down that same flight of stairs I had survived 23 years earlier to follow my destiny. For now, we had to leave each other behind again. But your name is still Kate and you are still beautiful.

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