I miss my grandmother the most when I’m sick.
For years as a child her house is where I would convalesce when I was too sick to go to school. I would usually wake up in the morning pretending to be fine in an effort to still go to school (a combination of actually enjoying school and, moreover, the beginning of a lifelong pattern of trying not to be a burden) and my mother would take a brief moment to press her cool cheek to my fevered forehead before declaring, “You’re going to your grandmother’s today.”
If ever there was a good reason to miss school, it was to spend it with her. I’d generally arrive to find her in the kitchen, making me cheese toast and hard boiled eggs and ordering me to lay down under the heavy blanket she’d laid out on the couch while she finished. My mom would try futilely to explain to her what was ailing me and she would always shush her the same way; “That child can talk,” she’d say. “And I done raised plenty of children that I don’t need one I birthed telling me ‘bout taking care of one.”
She’d feed me my favorite cheese toast and eggs and peaches and she’d sing all her favorite hymns while cleaning up. I’d watch her from the couch, the length of her silver hair fashioned into a long braid or neat bun, moving slowly but assuredly, grace and gravity in equal measure in every step. She’d open the curtains because she believed that sunshine cured sickness and when I carried my plate in the kitchen to be washed she would always cradle my flushed face with her elegant hands and tell me I was prettier than any flower she’d ever seen.
She had a chair that she would sit in to watch her stories and, unless she insisted I lay down, I would usually sit at her feet, watching television with her or reading quietly. She didn’t say much when she didn’t feel compelled to, a judiciousness with her words that I have grown into as a woman myself, but when she did I knew whatever she said was true and I should listen. So when inevitably, around noon each day, she would tell me to go lay down in her bed so I could take a nap after she gave me medicine, I did just that. I’d pull my small body up onto the raised heights of her bed, folding myself into the stiff sheets and thick quilts that smelled like her soap and her perfume. Despite already being prone to bouts of sleeplessness even that early in childhood, I would drift off to sleep easily, surrounded in her scent and curled up in a ball as though she were enveloping me.
Lunch was usually bologna sandwiches and plain chips, which she knew I liked to put directly between the bread right in the mayonnaise and eat. She would teach me her favorite songs from church and ask me about school and what I was learning even though I imagine the trials and tribulations of my elementary school life couldn’t have been that terribly interesting. Before long she would shoo me to the loveseat where she’d turn on cartoons to stifle my growing restlessness. I’d almost always drift off and wake up as she was watching late afternoon talk shows, but no matter how deeply in RIM sleep I was, I always felt her standing over me, brushing ponytails or plaits out of my face with the same fingers I have; soft and thin with nails that curve when they grow too long and crooked middle fingers .
Even now, decades removed from my childhood, and years since she’s been gone, I still wish I could retreat to her house with what ails me. I wish I could sleep in her bed, deeply and dreamlessly, until I felt rested. I would give up anything to hear her call me by my first and middle name while scolding me for being too stubborn to be still so I could heal. I would traverse any distance for her cheese toast and her hymns. There are times, even now, when I would do absolutely anything to lay my head in her lap and tell her what ails me, because if she told me it would be ok, then it’d be true and I would listen.