I’ve started this blog several times. I want to share a funny story. I want to share joy-filled memories. I want you to know about the Christmas music playing in the background, cookies baking in the oven, and family history being discussed.
I want to share all of that.
But while contemplating which story to tell, and in the process of sifting and sorting the details of these memories, a flood of another kind of memory returns to the forefront of my mind. And my heart sinks, and I feel anxious again.
Memories of unbelievable, suffocating pain when we were met with her disapproving gaze or deafening silence.
I want to share one particularly funny story. I can still hear her laughter and I can still see her face. I can picture the years that followed when we retold this story countless times.
I want to tell you about the ornaments on the tree—so many ornaments on the tree! A vast collection gathered over decades. They ALL went on the tree! All of them. And if a single ornament was missing?
She knew right away.
In her final years, some of the ornaments were retired. They became fragile.
There’s a metaphor.
Fragility over time.
I don’t know if they are still in the attic.
I want to tell you about the time my sister, my mother, and I followed the desire of my sister’s heart. We went into the clock store at the mall. My sister went first when the idea came to her. She found the grandfather clock she believed would fit grandma’s house best—the one she thought grandma would want.
And then I went to the store with my sister. She didn’t tell me which one she selected. She let me walk around the store and find it myself. I picked one. I told her all the reasons I thought it was the best one.
It was the same clock.
The next weekend, we took momma to the clock store. And we did the same thing with her. And she picked the same clock. So, we knew.
We knew it was the clock for grandma.
I want to tell you about the delivery day—a terribly cold Saturday in December. I want to tell you how we tried so desperately to contain our excitement. How we planned to decorate the tree and bake goodies. How we played a little trick on grandma by fixing chili first and pretending to be so hungry. We were stalling for the delivery time.
I want to tell you how annoyed she was at us because she could tell we were up to something.
She always knew when we were up to something.
I want to tell you what she said when our friend, who delivered and set up the grandfather clock, showed up with his station wagon. She immediately knew when the car stopped in front of her driveway that it was tied to our plans.
I want to tell you about the look on her face when she figured it out—when she figured out the box coming out of the car was not a coffin (she did ask if we bought her a coffin!) I want to tell you about when she figured out it was a grandfather clock.
I want to tell you about the smile that didn’t leave her for days. I want to tell you how she would sit and admire it—this grandfather clock. I want to tell you about how she would stop—mid-sentence—during conversations when it chimed and say, “Merry Christmas!” and just beam. It didn’t matter what time of year.
I want to tell you how I was the only one she would allow to wind it. No one else could touch it.
Not then, anyway.
I want you to know that this clock the three of us selected is the very clock she herself admired and wanted and thought she’d never have.
She never told us which one she wanted.
I want you to know how she loved decorating sugar cookies at Christmas time. And about the time my sister was sitting across from her—both decorating cookies and visiting with one another. I was mixing dough and getting cookies into and out of the oven. I want you to know how grandma selected a Christmas tree cookie and meticulously added sprinkles and colored sugar—always decorating it just so.
She took pride in her work.
I could see her from the mirror over the stove sitting in her chair—on her “perch” at the kitchen table—and I watched as she took delight preparing to select the next intentional decoration—studying and examining her options. I watched as she so carefully and so unintentionally proceeded to pour the water from her water glass into her hand instead of pouring the sprinkles she wanted to place on the cookie!
I want you to hear her laugh. And hear my sister’s laugh. And hear my laugh as we cleaned the water, saving the cookies, and listening to her explain her thoughts and how this happened!
I want you to know how many times this story was re-told. And how every time we shared it again we all still laughed so hard—as if it just happened!
I want you to see her face when she was proud of something we did; and to feel her arms wrap around you with her signature hug of approval.
I want you to see her face as she glanced up from reading her book, or piecing a quilt, or working a crossword puzzle to see who was coming through the door and how the smile would break across her face when she was delighted to see you.
I want you to know she worked hard and fought hard for things to look and to be “just right.”
But you can’t know these things without also knowing that she battled her demons; that we weren’t always what she wished we would be; that we learned to survive these unrealistic expectations she placed; and that those skills of survival have caused us great pain.
You can’t hear her laugh without also knowing the icy cold frost of her silence.
You can’t see her smile and see her perfect outfit with her carefully selected accessories without knowing the red-hot flash of anger and feeling the sting of words flowing from the sharp point of her tongue.
She taught us many things. Good things. And bad things. She did teach us how to survive the obstacles of this life. She also taught us how to create some obstacles. And those things I’ve had to unlearn over the years so that I can fully experience this life, and embrace the beautiful things of our created world—like joy and love and hope.
She taught us many things, indeed.
But she didn’t teach us how to do this without her.
Jeani Rice-Cranford recently graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School with a Master's degree in Divinity. During her time at Vanderbilt, she interned as a Chaplain with Operation Stand Down Tennessee--a non-profit organization specializing in helping Veterans connect with community, educational, and employment resources throughout middle Tennessee--and as a pastoral intern with Holy Trinity Community Church in Nashville--a sister church in the United Church of Christ.
Jeani is currently discerning the vocational aspect of her calling to ministry and enjoys facilitating a bi-monthly conversation regarding the ways in which we can become more healthy when Responding to Change; as well as participating in writing projects related to theology and the practices of faith--seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God that we might love God with all that we are, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.