Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Life of a Legend and WWII Veteran

She didn’t ask for us to be her family. She didn’t invite us into her life. As a matter of fact, she didn’t really do anything to encourage us to interact with her. She did whatever she could to discourage us. Her downfall, her misstep was sitting at the table where my grandmother sat for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the nursing home. She had no way of knowing how much my family likes taking on a challenge, taking on a person.

After my granddaddy died, Ms Susan was assigned to eat at the table with my Grandmother. My Grandmother was the meekest person I had ever met, and Ms Susan, well; she was the most stand-off person I had ever met. Ms Susan and Grandmother became friends over the courses of meals together. Both quiet and mannerly, I’m not really sure what they spoke about, but whatever it was it solidified their relationship for the rest of their lives.

We took Ms Susan from point forward. Her walls were thick. She kept some people at arm’s length. She kept some people at several yard’s length, and some people, she never wanted to deal with – period. She scared a lot of people off, but we didn’t have the good sense to be afraid. We had Grandmother forging the way…we just didn’t realize it.

Grandmother was sitting at the table and invited us to sit and eat with her. She pointed to the chair to sit in, and we did. Pearce was sitting up and Erin was standing beside me talking incessantly. Ms Susan took her place at the table, and Grandmother made the introductions. I don’t recall Ms Susan saying a word, just a pleasant nod. Grandmother passed her crackers for Pearce and Erin to eat while we visited.

Our visits with Grandmother weren’t always at a meal time, but it was the only time we would come face-to-face with Ms Susan. Pearce did not interact much with women. He has and still is very much a man-baby. He has preferred men from a very young age. But on this particular visit, Pearce was particularly engaging, and before I realized it, he had taken some food, like a cracker, from Ms Susan’s plate. I was shocked! Mortified! I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I just knew she was going to lecture me on the proper etiquette and manners for dinner time. Instead, Ms Susan looked at him and grinned. I was in…really, Pearce was in, and I was by association.

We faithfully visited my Grandmother, Mammaw and would see Ms Susan on occasion. On one occasion, Grandmother sent me to Ms Susan’s room. I knocked and when she called me to enter, I walked in and noticed an immediate difference in her room than the other residence. Ms Susan had no television but rather her books filled the shelves on one side of her room. She didn’t have photographs of family…just one or two on the dresser. I made the delivery and moved to the door. Another step closer.

When my Grandmother passed away, my daddy, Lori and I went to tell Ms Susan the news. Ms Susan had checked on my Grandmother on many occasions. Ms Susan had been an anesthesiology nurse, and she was always a nurse. My Grandmother was a good ten years younger than Ms Susan, and yet, Ms Susan would check on her. We walked into Ms Susan’s room to tell her, and she knew immediately. She said, “She died last night didn’t she?” We acknowledged. She told us she had seen my Grandmother in her room early that morning, and Ms Susan just knew that she had died. I remember Ms Susan’s tears. For someone who didn’t make friends easily, she loved deeply.

After Grandmother passed away, we went to Ms Susan and explained she would have to take her place because we were one Grandmother, one Great-Grandmother short. That next Mother’s Day we showered her with gifts and cards and flowers. Ms Susan chuckled because she was 92, and it was her first time to be celebrated on Mother’s Day.

Ms Susan was extremely private. She talked of two friends she had Ms Betty and Gene-Marie. I asked about her birth date, and she flat out refused to tell me. By this time, I knew we were good and in because she had fallen in love with my son and she had connected to my daughter on a personal level, so yes, I dug and found out her birth date. She had her first birthday party at 93, and she loved every minute of it.

I loved going to visit her. I loved visiting her by myself, so we could visit. I loved hearing her stories about serving as a nurse during World War II in Europe, as a nurse at Charity Hospital during Huey P Long’s administration, and about her time in New York and her one day employment in Colorado. I cherish those visits, but I knew that she looked forward to seeing the children. Her whole face would light up as soon as they would walk in and give her a hug.

I can’t imagine what she must have endured to build the walls around her that she had, but I’m so thankful my family took the challenge to get behind those walls.

My children, especially Pearce, miss her greatly as do I.

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