We sat in our comfy chairs and enjoyed a second cup of coffee together, my 86-year-old Mama and I. Without much notice, she looked over the rim of her cup, and stated with purpose, “Let’s take a little trip upstairs.” Her soft blue eyes twinkled at the thought of a trek to the second floor. I offered to bring a few photographs and select family keepsakes downstairs, hoping to ease what I knew would be a difficult climb for her to the upper level of my home. But, the attempt, albeit honorable on my part, failed to dissuade her this time. She insisted on making the laborious journey, taking her time with each step, fifteen in all. Finally reaching the upper story landing, we walked along the hallway where an impressive display of framed ancestry lines the walls. Unfortunately, most of these behind glass family members had passed away long before I was born. She talked as though she had visited with each of them the week before. Suddenly, strangers with stoic faces and vague histories came to life with her many vivid recollections. She spoke tenderly of her beloved Grandpa Winkle who had a very strict ritual that he adhered to each evening at bedtime. First, he would wind the old clock. Then, he went to bed – even if company was visiting – wearing long underwear, a shirt, and a tie. He grew cotton for many years and sold home grown vegetables from a horse drawn cart. A favorite past time of Grandpa Winkle was a hearty – if not sometimes rather heated – discussion of religion with his son-in-law. In later years, he traded his strong opinions for long rests on his front porch swing as he lovingly watched his grandchildren play underneath the persimmon trees.
An old photograph of her Grandma Winkle brought another flood of memories, as she fondly remembered her as a very giving person that always found great satisfaction in doing for others. She was a midwife and assisted with the delivery of many babies. Where there was a sick child, you would find her – comforting and attempting to make well the young ones in her care. Unfortunately, she was all but helpless when it came to aiding her own ill child – and at the age of six months, one of her twins passed away suddenly. She desperately grieved the loss of her baby, and was often times inconsolable. One night, the story is told of her waking to see the baby playing happily on her bed. She watched for quite some time, totally enamored by this child she recognized as her own. She would never be convinced otherwise – that God was keeping her baby safe and had graciously allowed her to see for herself that he was in good hands. Though she would be forever mindful of the death of her sweet baby boy, this heaven-sent experience would reside deep within her very soul and comfort her for the rest of her days. Grandchildren always knew that their Grandma Winkle would have something good to eat at her house – whether it was leftover bacon and eggs in the oven, or her specialty; white cake topped with applesauce and red heart candies. She raised her own turkeys, geese and chickens – and churned her own butter. It goes without saying that holiday dinners were a most joyous occasion. She could not read or write – although this did not prove to be a significant handicap. Grandma Winkle owned and operated a market for many years, and due to her inability to read, she devised a rather ingenious system for identifying items and their prices through drawings that she created.
We made our way into one of the guest bedrooms and I removed several handmade items from an old chest of drawers. Again, there was a heartwarming story from the past that accompanied each treasured keepsake. I watched as she ran her fingers along the delicate edges of a crocheted doily that was nearly 75- years-old. The sight of an old, well-worn table cloth that had once graced the little kitchen table in her and Dad’s first apartment brought a tear to her eye.
She journeyed bygone years with ease, like a familiar well-traveled path – and with a strange clarity that often eludes her when she tries to recall what she did earlier in the day. The places in her mind where she chose to stop and sit for awhile became vibrant stories that she articulated like a gifted orator. Suddenly, I saw her as an 86-year-old beautifully written novel, pages worn, but rich with prose. I felt so humbled to “read” with her.
At the end of it all, her expression was one of pure joy. “Well, that was delightful, now wasn’t it?” She clasped her hands together and smiled sweetly. “I feel like I’ve been on a nice trip.” Indeed she had. I had been privileged to accompany her. A long, beautiful trip through a colorful field of memories.