the kathryn effect

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

  Is it not the weirdest thing in the world when a certain smell jogs a thousand and one memories? It happened to me just earlier today. I was walking through a parking lot on our little town square when the strong scent of a familiar perfume washed over me with the weight of a breaking wave. I had to catch my breath, it was so unexpected. It was like I went back in time for a fraction of a second and my grandma Kathryn was right by my side again.

  In actuality, it's been over 10 years since I've heard that contagious laugh, been flashed that beautiful smile or was enveloped in one of her sweet hugs, that trademark perfume, Pheronome, leaving its mark on everything she owned. My mom's mom was the quintessential Southern woman, y'all. A kind, compassionate, Jesus lovin', iced tea chuggin' lady with sass to spare. I know it sounds cliche but Miss Kathryn Louise wasn't just my grandmother, she was my rock. Sometimes, I still don't know how I stay anchored without her.

   I'm an incredibly lucky girl in the fact that every single one of my grandparents were and are shining examples of the kind of person I wish to be. My grandpa Johnson was strong, protective and loved nothing more than a good practical joke and rough-housing with his grandkids. My grandma Betty Grace was sweet, quiet and gentle with a heart made of absolute gold. My mother's dad, my Granddaddy, Murray, was intelligent, honest, soft-spoken and kind. The sweetest bonus in my life, my dad's step-mom, grandma Floy, continues to be a beacon of compassion, warmth and love. Because my grandpa Johnson and grandma Floy lived in Omaha, Nebraska and Granny B.G. was in California, I often get a little heartsick at the amount of memories I missed out on living so far away in Texas. Those cherished times when they made the trip here or we trekked out to see them, however, are forever ingrained in my heart.

 If your grandparents are still living, soak that in. Ask them their story. Get to know who they were before they became parents, much less grandparents. Bust out the old family photo albums and reminisce with them. My last memory of my Grandmama was the night before she passed. She was so weak and sick with the cancer attacking her body. It was so sudden. She had been diagnosed just a couple weeks before and planned to start chemotherapy the day she left us. A few days prior, her and I sat at her storied kitchen table, the table where we once shared so many meals and countless family game nights. As I helped her spread peanut butter onto Saltine crackers, a go-to snack, and at this point, one of the only things she could keep down, I was hit with the realization that these precious little moments wouldn't last forever.

  Later that afternoon, she settled into her recliner and turned the TV on to one of her beloved soap operas. I sat nearby in the next room, curled up in a chair and flipping through some old scrapbooks. I could feel her eyes watching me and when I looked up, she seemed so wistful, like she longed for time she knew she didn't have. That night, as my mother and I tucked her fragile body into bed, she gently wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered "I love you, baby." As we walked out of the front door and into the dark night, I stole one final glance behind me. She looked so small in that big ol' bed. I blew her a kiss and off we went. I had no idea it would be the last time I'd ever see her.

 That memory is still so vibrant in my mind, I can literally see the shadow the light from the TV cast onto the shape of her in that bed. I long to have her back on this earth with me. When I got married, almost exactly one year ago, I wanted nothing more than to have 4 of those chairs filled by my beloved grandparents, Kathryn, Murray, Richard and Betty. Instead, we set up a little table with a candle and flowers beside a framed photo of each of them and a sign that read "This candle burns in loving memory of those forever in our hearts."

That they are.

 My soul was made complete by my 5 grandparents. There is so much to be learned from those who have lived a long, full life. Experiences, regrets, whatever the memory, it can be used as fuel for your fire. Ask those questions while you have the chance. They were born and raised in a much different time and place than we were, an era I often wish I could have experienced myself. Put down your iPhone, unplug the laptop and try a different kind of connection--one with your parents, your grandparents, your great-aunt, your father's cousin, whomever. You never know when their voice will be silent and you have to rely on your own memories of them to get you through.

  I continually ask myself, "By doing this, would my grandma brag on me to her friends at church? Would my granddaddy approve of the words I'm about to speak?" Even years after their deaths, they continue to ground me. I can only hope that I continue to make them proud.

 Love one another, never take anything for granted and be kind, y'all. It's what your grandmother would want you to do. :)