Monday, November 15, 2010

inherited no. 8

in early october i made the trek down to alabama for a quick weekend. i'm not sure how many years had passed since i had stepped foot in anniston. i went mainly to see the m.d. and her own m.d., my grandma, who is 85 and the most humble person i've ever met, seriously. louise walker spent most of her childhood in a catholic orphanage in birmingham, and on june 20, 1947, when she was 22, she married my grandpa, leonard harkins. my grandpa was already sick with parkinson's when i was born, so i remember my grandma spending most of her time caring for him. she's been on her own for twenty years now and has been pretty independent until the last couple of years. now she lives with my aunt and uncle, and she spends her days praying, playing solitaire, doing puzzles, eating sweets, and napping. there is a photograph of my grandpa in his military uniform hanging in her room, and the first day i visited her on this trip she looked at the picture and said to my mother and me that he was a good man. such a simple statement, so true, but it was clear that what she was really saying was that she missed him. i can't imagine what it must be like to have lived twenty years without the person you loved most in all the world.

this is a rather roundabout way of getting to the inherited part of this post. as we sat in her room and my heart twisted in my chest at seeing her so different from when i'd last visited, she suddenly remembered that she wanted to give me something. (in all fairness, i had a hint this was coming.) she told me to go over to the statuette of the "blessed mother" on her dresser, and perched on top, like a halo, was her wedding ring.
i don't know why she chose me, it could be as simple as the fact that i'm the oldest unmarried grandaughter. (go me!) it's a simple ring in thin white gold, with almost sharp edges around the circumference. it's the sort of ring you wouldn't even notice, which is exactly how my grandma has lived her life, never trying to call attention to herself, but it now ranks among my most treasured possessions. too small for my own fingers, i strung it together with my mother's wedding ring. my mother's thick gold band hangs heavy next to the delicate, thin ring that bound my grandparents together for 43 years. wearing them together i constantly find my fingers twisting around them, trying to hold on to, to feel between my fingers, the love and hardship and commitment that kept them on my grandma and my mother's fingers for so many years. to have them, though, is bittersweet, because that i have them, that they aren't still on their original owners' fingers, is evidence of a loss beyond my comprehension.
that's the tricky thing about inheritances -- they almost always stand for someone's loss. thank you, grandma, for continuing to use a prayer book that's in pieces, for playing solitaire with cards whose edges are worn down in the center from years of shuffling, for reminding me of what matters.