By Tyann Sheldon Rouw
A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.
There was nothing better than spending the night with my Great-Grandma Mead on New Year's Eve. I'm not sure who was more excited about the annual sleepover. Even though she was in her eighties, Grandma loved being around kids. My brother and I stayed up later than usual, playing card games for hours after we had eaten homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, bowls of fruit, and gingersnap cookies that Grandma stored in the cupboard behind her tiny kitchen table. She never allowed us to drink soda because she didn't want our teeth to decay. She was my great-grandma, but I always referred to her as Grandma.
Our eyes were wide as saucers when she told us the story of The Three Little Pigs. We begged her to tell the tale, and I loved hearing her say, "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin." She loved to watch repeats of The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS, and she did so as she instructed us to take a shower or at the very least, wash our feet. We ate grapefruit (we never had this at our house) and toast the next morning before my mom came to pick us up. It was the best way to start the New Year. After each visit she hugged us goodbye and said, "God bless you." Then tears welled up in her eyes.
Grandma had endured tremendous loss during her life: her oldest child died in a tragic fire, her left hand was amputated after it became infected, and her husband died at an early age. She never made excuses. She raised four children by herself, including one with significant hearing loss, during the Great Depression. She earned money by cleaning houses and helping others with their children. She was proud and never received financial assistance.
A plaque hanging in her kitchen said, "Today is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." She never shared how much she leaned on her faith or how she made the conscious choice to be positive each day. Grandma fed the birds and admired the red poppies in her yard. When she gave thanks for God's gifts, she said, "Wonderful, wonderful." Her response was the same when we told her about our accomplishments. She said the same thing when she looked at a sunset or when family appeared at her door.
She passed away a few days after my husband and I returned from our honeymoon. I felt as though she had been waiting for us. At ninety-nine years old, she had her positive attitude, her mind, and her teeth. (She was proud of having her own teeth. She wanted us to have our own teeth, too, which is why she didn't allow us to drink soda.) It was hard to believe she was gone.
After Grandma's passing, my parents' doorbell began ringing at odd times. On more than one occasion, my mom sprang out of bed in a panic, wondering who might be at the door. Nobody was ever there. We decided it was Grandma saying hello.
The day my husband and I learned we were expecting twins, we laughed. On the drive home from the doctor's office, I realized it was Grandma Mead's birthday. I felt it was a sign she was there with me. The twins were born exactly six months later and were very difficult babies. They seemed to cry often and were not easily settled. They seldom slept. Two years later they both received an autism diagnosis, which explained some of their difficult behaviors. I missed her and wished she could meet my boys. It was a demanding full-time job caring for the twins. Sometimes I spoke to her aloud. I hoped she was guiding me.
When the twins were three and a half years old, my son Henry was born. He was quite vocal at an early age, which was music to my ears since my twins were receiving speech therapy. Isaac didn't speak at all, while Noah repeated words again and again. Henry, on the other hand, was speaking in full sentences before he was two years old. He loved to talk.
One afternoon, after Henry's nap, he was sitting at the table eating a snack. "Grandma Mead played with me today," he stated, matter-of-factly. I tried not to act surprised because I wanted him to tell me more about the experience. I had talked to him about Grandma Mead, but he only knew she was a special grandma.
"What happened?" I asked. "Was she in your room?"
"She told me stories," he said, as he took a few bites of his banana.
"Was it The Three Little Pigs?" I asked.
"No," he said. The conversation was over.
I had read about children having the ability to see those who had passed. Could Henry have interacted with Grandma Mead? Over the course of several months, he consistently reported her visits when he was in his room for a nap.
One afternoon he said to me, "Grandma Mead likes to ring doorbells."
"Yes," I answered, a bit in shock. "She likes to ring doorbells. What else did she say?"
"She lives in a house."
"Henry, she lives in heaven now, but she used to live in a house," I explained.
"Her house is red and white," he said.
I almost fell off my chair. He couldn't have possibly known any of that information. The red and white house was the one where my brother and I stayed each New Year's Eve.
When Henry was two and a half years old, he and I were outside one summer morning while the twins were at preschool. I was watching him toddle around our back patio area. As he was running, his sneaker hit an uneven patch of cement. I was too far away and knew I wouldn't be able to get there in time. I felt helpless.
As he was falling forward, he shouted, "Grandma Mead!" I was surprised by his exclamation. He landed face down on the cement. I remember thinking his injuries could be pretty severe because he hadn't put his arms out to brace his fall. I felt sick to my stomach. I picked him up and held him as he cried. I expected his shirt to be torn or his face to be bloody. I took him inside and tried to calm him down while I examined him. He didn't have a scratch on his body anywhere! It appeared as though someone had cushioned his fall.
I rocked with Henry in the glider for a long time while tears ran down my cheeks. I looked down at my little boy, nestled in my protective arms. Wonderful, wonderful, I thought. Thank you, Grandma Mead, for keeping him safe. I imagined her putting her arms around me and whispering, "God bless you."