Conversation with Grandma Davis

Today, on her birthday, I called my grandma, and enjoyed a wide-ranging talk about the family gossip, literature, magazines she reads (The Smithsonian and National Geographic), television, writing, her hearing aids, and handicapped accessibility.  As usual, I enjoyed her witty banter (“They think they’ve fixed the church to be handicapped accessible, but it’s more ‘capped’ than ‘handy’!”), her spouted opinions (“Well, National Geographic is meant to be non-fiction, but how can they be sure what happened millions of years ago?  Seems like it’s at least part imaginative fiction!”), and appreciation for beautiful things (“Your father and D. sent me a bouquet of flowers in fall colors–lilies, snapdragons, and it’s either cosmos or asters . . . so nice to look over and see them”).

Right before she got my call, she’d been sung to by a friend who remembered her as a Jones, way back before she was a Davis, and had forgotten the intervening change.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a friendship that goes back well over seventy years; Grandma says it’s frightening.

Her voice sounds just the way I remember from my early childhood, when I used to see her every other week.  She speaks in that moderate, mid-western pace, following a line of thought methodically to its next logical place, then throwing in a one-liner or pun to express humility, lightness, a sense of perspective.

She mentioned an article she’d been reading by a scientist who’d been brought up Mennonite or Amish.  When an interviewer asked this person how he reconciled his scientific findings with his religious heritage, he’d responded, ‘My father didn’t like to talk a lot about things he didn’t know much about.’  Grandma liked this response, and I thought I understood her feeling–though just now, I find I can’t explain what it means.

It hurts me to live so far away from her, though we’ve been many states apart for decades now.  I feel that I’m missing out on something important–a vital connection to my past, my roots, our shared ancestral history, her facial expressions.  And worse, she misses out on seeing her great-granddaughters face-to-face.

At the same time, I’m grateful for the life that I have, the place where I live, and the people I love, here, far from the place I was born.  We have the phone, the Internet (yes, my 90-plus Grandma uses e-mail and reads blogs!) to keep in touch, and meanwhile, I’m saving my pennies to visit Iowa next summer.

“I’ll try to be here,” she said.

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