January 15, 2012

The Sweet Spot

The high chair is thick with paint. The topcoat is white but yellowing. I see her watching the baby, noticing the chair.

“I believe that high chair was made by my Daddy.”

“Momma, you always said that you sat in that chair.”

“I believe he made it,” she says pulling hard from the depths.

She knows and she doesn’t.

My grandbaby sits in the chair. Momma tied her in with a sash of red and white striped cotton.

There used to be a tray on the chair. There are grooves on the arms. I’ve never seen the tray. But it had one more than eighty years ago. My great-great grandfather made it by hand for his babies to eat in.

Five generations sit at the table----the baby the evening entertainment. (Except when my teen boy pours tea over his salad instead of dressing. Why? He’s unsure. His cheeks pink up and we laugh. He drained the tea off in the sink, came back and reached for the ranch dressing.)

After the coconut pie, she says she can stand at the sink and wash the dishes. She comes pushing her walker. We know she can’t help, and it hurts to know it's true. We encourage her to go watch the baby play.

Mom takes her place at the sink washing the dishes before washing the dishes. I pick up stacks of Corelle waiting by the sink; line the plates up in the dishwasher. We could have eaten on paper, but we didn't, and for some reason I am thankful.

I need Mom to hem some pants for me. She gave me her short stature but she didn’t give me sewing lessons.

Memaw comes down the hall, stops. She thinks we only need to turn up the hem on the khakis. Thirty years ago this would have been her job---hemming, taking in a waistline, making me a party dress for a school function. Mom deferred to her expertise back then.

I slip on the gray flannel pants that tie at the bottom. I want a regular hem. My grandmother asks for help finding the bathroom. She is just steps from it. I feel the meal heavy in my stomach.

Mom tells my grandmother where to go like she doesn’t know.

She knows and she doesn’t.

Where did the knowing go? Forty-five years that bathroom has been right there.

We sit and watch Tebow before we go. 

She asks my husband how his mom and dad are doing. His sweet mother left this earth in 1993. Jeff tells her his dad is between churches. She doesn’t ask about his mom.

She knows and she doesn’t.

As we leave she quipped that we are all related somehow. A faint laugh floated into the air, a whisper of the sound of her laughter---the laugh I remember.

The baby, the great-great grandmother, and the contrasts lay heavy on me.

The baby is soaking in the world, taking it all in, the power of words spoken. I see her awakening to place and to the people she will call her family. I wonder at her life as it is being shaped, celebrate every new awakening.

My grandmother who sat in that very high chair where the baby now sits is losing her words, her place, the skills that shaped her into the beautiful, strong woman I knew. And I wonder that she might be losing us.

I stand in the sweet spot--- in the middle of these generations, torn between joy and grief---the beautiful and the beauty fading. I see the blessing, but I feel the pain. I struggle to live in the moment---to take the dare to be thankful in this.

She knows and she doesn’t.

(My knowing. It comes and it goes. I remind myself, “This isn’t all there is---only what earth eyes see.” I think maybe the hardest thing I will ever do is to live the joys of the beginnings of life all the way to the end. I know this is true and I need grace. Grace and truth.) 
… God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.  And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.  (Ecc. 3:11-13)

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