For Great Grandma, Ann
Tonight my kids lost their great grandmother. My former father-in-law has lost his wife and mother in a span of just over four weeks.
When I met Ann, she was already losing some of her mobility, but she and my ex's grandfather always insisted on hosting large holiday meals at long tables in the basement of their tiny Toledo home. It was wacky and loud but also very special, and I remember most of those moments quite clearly.
Several years ago, Ann was moved into an assisted living facility. Her husband died in 2000, before our daughter was born. She had Parkinson's disease and had been suffering health and memory losses all these years.
But at one point in her life, a point my former sibs-in-law remember, she was quite feisty. After all, it ran in the family. I once heard that her family had a contract out on her future husband. Now that's tough!
Anyway, I feel so sad for my X's family to have been hit again with a loss, even one that was as long expected as this one. But I'm glad they will be together and help each other in remembering Ann. My heart goes out to them.
This is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, written and sung by Greg Brown, a man who loved his grandma. I only knew my mother's mother, and she was a bit like Ella Mae. Here's to our grandmothers, who looked on us knowing someday we'd be sitting here without them, reaching back for their wisdom and orneriness while seeing our own grandkids in the eyes of our children.
Ella Mae - the redwings returned today
A little rain fell in the morning
The afternoon was clear
An' that song you loved to hear
Was filling up the fence row where the birds all go
To talk over their long journey and sing.
Ella Mae - all the gifts you gave
Tremble in my life like a startled deer
You gave me my Pa
Who is in me as you are
And the southern piney hills
The clear water and the running rills
That tumbled through the lives of us all.
Six big men and one big strong woman
You and little Granpa David raised up there
They all had families
We all come back to see you
You hugged us all in turn
Cocked you head and said we'd grown
And touched us with your hands
That smelled like bread
Ella Mae - it's a clear warm summer's day
The young birds are trying out their wings
Ah it's something to see them try
To get up there and fly
And my own child is bound to do the same
Today she learned three birds' names.
Ella Mae - I can see you plain as day
Sailing out like a ship to your garden
In your old wide-brim straw hat
With a long handled hoe in your hand.
Pausing at the gate I see you look south to the pond
A long time quiet smile on your face.
Ella Mae - when your David went away
After cutting brush all day long
Well, your life just slowly closed
Like a worn out autumn rose
You could not find the bread
You could not make your lonesome bed
Or really do a thing but rise and go.
Ella Mae - the redwings left today
Passing in a long cloud of wings
They're headed down your way
They'll be there in a couple of days
They'll sing that song you loved
As they fly above
Your resting place by David in the pines.