Tears come to my grandma’s eyes when she tells us goodbye and thanks us for coming to visit. “I’m not worthy,” she says. Silly Grandma. We have visited her seldom, far less often than she deserves. She probably won’t last much longer now, my aunts tell us. Her kidneys are failing, and she won’t go to the hospital for medication. She is ready to die, anxious for it.
Grandma is short and old and plump — like she has been for as long as I remember — but she sits in a wheelchair now and wears a bib when she eats. She has not lost her optimistic nature.
Though her eyes keep drooping shut, she tells us she never feels tired. “When other old people say how tired they get, I just look at them.”
This visit, I realize for the first time how much she reminds me of my dad — the odd blunt comments, the practicality of her, the friendliness in spite of all that.
She once ran out of salad while serving a meal, so she passed around a head of lettuce for the guests to cut their own. She used to buy hosts of things on sale, whether or not she actually needed them. She saved things. Once, at a restaurant, she couldn’t eat all her fish, so she wrapped it in a napkin and put it in her purse. A few days later, as she knelt in church, she smelled something peculiar. She thought it was the woman next to her until she realized it was the fish.
She speaks with the Deutschy accent of a native Pennsylvania Dutch speaker. I grew up hearing Dad talk that language with her on the phone — a language earthy, practical, comforting: smelling of barns, scratchy with everyday details, clucked back in the throat like a duck brooding ducklings.
I know my grandma for many things, but most of all for her prayers. In the old days, when she herded my dad and his sisters and brother out the door for school, she always stopped at the door to pray with them. “Just in case,” she would say, “Jesus comes today.”
If my grandpa didn’t want a thing to happen, he would tell Grandma not to pray for it — her prayers so often came true.
She prayed perhaps the bravest and most desperate prayer of her life when my dad was 13 years old and ran away from home. She found him a few days later in the attic, hiding out with cans of beans and sour milk.
But his homecoming didn’t last. A few months later, after a discipline conflict, he told authorities he didn’t want to live with his parents anymore. They made him go to church, he said, wouldn’t let him go to high school. He didn’t want anything to do with their religion. The judge sent him to live in a foster home.
“I didn’t really worry about him because I knew God was taking care of him,” Grandma tells me.
My grandma knew. A year and a half later, my dad returned. Then God answered an even greater prayer of hers. Sixty-two years later, I hear the trembling gladness in her voice when she tells me how he came down the stairs one morning and said, “Mom, guess what? I’m a Christian now. I gave my heart to Jesus.”
“That was so wonderful,” she says. “So wonderful.”
And now she has come to this: An old lady in her wheelchair whose kidneys are failing, who can no longer remember all the prayers she prayed or all the ways that God worked. But that he has worked, she knows. And that he has worked — after 80-some years of trying his promises — her prayers and her simple belief in him testify.
Lucinda J. Miller lives in Boston. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.