Days later I’m sitting in her kitchen. I’ve forgotten about the game until she mentions having been there. My cousin just happens to be the team’s All Star, so I never miss a game. And neither does Gramma. Soon two and two are put together and she knows that I was there. One look at Gramma and I know she’s read between the lines. I avoided her. On purpose. With a slightly furrowed brow and understanding in her eyes she simply says, “hmm”.
So simple. To most that’s no more than an empty utterance, but from this woman it may as well be an epistle. No need for reproach or harsh words, she has put me in my place. Somehow, I think, a lecture would’ve be easier to swallow.
Fast forward six years.
Back in Gramma’s kitchen I sit and watch as she prepares dinner. It occurs to me that this has been the only constant in my life: this house, this scene, this woman. I feel like I’m four years old again, sitting and watching as she fixes lunch, and hanging on her every word. I bristle at the thought of the in between years. In my five-year-old eyes, this woman was perfection. In my twenty-one-year old eyes, she was everything I wanted to be. But somewhere in between my eyes grew dim, and I could no longer see her worth. I filed her away with a hundred other things that I knew would still be there whenever I got around to them.
How gracefully she maneuvers around chopping, mixing, baking, and sharing words of wisdom with me, a nervous bride-to-be. How she can do so many things at once always amazes me. It occurs to me that I really don’t know this woman, and my heart longs to dig deeper. Beyond the words of a grandmother to her granddaughter, I want to know who she was, who she is, and how the two collided. To even think of someday filling her shoes seems an impossible quest. I glance at the ring on my finger, and look up to see her eyes focused on mine. And there it is, a slightly furrowed brow, and understanding in her eyes.
“Just be sweet, Nikki,” she says softly, then goes back to her chopping.
Fast forward six years.
A nightmare wakes me in the middle of the night. I dream I’m standing on a stage in the middle of a small church, delivering a eulogy. Gramma’s eulogy. Tears stream down my face and I feel for a moment that I am paralyzed. What would I do without this woman?
Days later I sit in her kitchen watching her do dishes. It’s late, the rest of the house is in bed. She begins to talk about days gone by. I have been haunted for days by my dream, and an overwhelming fear of her not being here. Suddenly I am on mission, to soak up every ounce of wisdom and truth and life I can from her.
The world fades away as I hone in on her tales. Some I’ve heard a hundred times, yet I still listen as if it were the first time I was hearing. As always she begins with the story of a mischievous little girl skipping school and lying to her Mama about it. I laugh, finding the story hard to envision. From there comes my favorite part, the love story. My heart always warms a little when she talks about bringing him home to meet her parents: “They loved him, too” she says, her eyes brimming with memories. Sixty years later and she’s still swept off her feet by the thought of him.
But there is more to this woman than a love story, and we soon get to that. Beyond the romance, there is loss. So much loss. My heart breaks as she recalls them one by one, occasionally pausing on a silent memory, one I know she doesn’t want to share.
Tears form in my eyes and I look down, “Dear God don’t let her see me."
When I look up she just smiles, furrowed brow and knowing eyes, and a simple, “hmm”. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be what she is. She has lived a life that has been so full of bumps. And yet she stands tall, strong, and so full of love. So full of peace. How? How did she continue to breathe after losing her young son to his own hands? How did she continue to wake up each morning after her Love closed his eyes so many years too soon? How did she keep moving when, so many times, her world seemed to stop?
But the answer is written all over her. Grace. She is covered in it. And without a single syllable she looks at me and says, “You are, too.”
Nikki is a wife, a mother, and a wannabe do-it-yourselfer. Once a little girl who dreamed of the big city, she somehow ended up a housewife in the middle of the Bible Belt. And she loves every second of it. She spends her days writing, painting, and playing dinosaurs with her kids. You can find her at christianbyassociation.com.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall.
We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more.
Read the rest of the Women of Valor series here.