Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Flutter by, butterfly

A beautiful yellow butterfly joined us on the beach here at White Lake today. As we have been many days this summer, Andrew and I were out there doing our thing. He likes to run into the water before I've had a chance to even get my beach bag and my chair off our trusty golf cart (the main mode of transport once we park the van here at my parents' double wide in the campground). I get things situated and wade into the shallow water to take Andrew's sandals off his thick feet, which have already outgrown every pair of summer shoes he has, including these but he's still wearing them -- his toes just hang off the end. We then spend an hour or so doing all Andrew's favorite things, which includes the following: Laying in the sand on the shore, face down; throwing handfuls of sand in the air and at Mama; running up and down the beach; walking all the way down to the pier to go underneath it where it's cool and shady; singing songs while under said pier because it sounds really neat; chasing the flock of Canada geese into the water and far away from our beach; mounting an all out attack on the sand mountain at the far end of the beach; reaching the top of sand mountain only to roll back down; eating snacks with sandy hands; digging big holes in the sand to sit in; finding every dead fish, goose turd and other gross, unsightly or unsanitary thing on the beach and trying to touch it, pick it up and possibly put into the mouth for further scientific evaluation before Mama can react.

Today, Greg's mom Barbara and our dog Brody joined us on the beach. My mother-in-law is visiting us this week. It would be unfair for me to go on here without saying that my family is grieving. My father's mother, my grandmother, died in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday. We buried her just yesterday morning. She was 93, so it's not like this was a surprise. But she was in good health until a few weeks ago when she developed pancreatitis related to gal stones. The doctors suggested surgery. My father wasn't in favor of it, but she was fully capable of making her own decisions. Less than a week after coming home from the hospital, she was taken back to the ER and this time, she didn't get to come home.
She was a smart woman, knowledgeable in local history like no one else in our neck of the woods. She was the keeper of the family tree and all the stories of the generations past. She was an avid reader until her sight failed and even then she listened to books on tape. She loved gardening. She could make a mean pan of biscuits. She helped pay for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go to college, whether by helping with books or tuition.
She was distant to me as a child, though she lived just down the road. I saw my grandpa everyday of my life when I was growing up because he came to see me. He took me to Mildred's store where I could pick out a glass bottled soft drink, a bag of chips and put a penny in the gumball machine. Then, when I was older, he would arrive at our door bearing gifts -- a bag of Cheetos, a quarter for all As on my report card, a stick of Juicy Fruit gum. But my grandmother was different and to me, she seemed a tough nut to crack. My experience of being her granddaughter was much different than that of my sisters, who have fond memories of spending the night at my grandparents' house where they were spoiled with treats and our grandmother's tenderness. By the time I came along, it seemed my grandmother was entering a new stage in her life -- one that didn't include tending to grandbabies. Instead, she went to work for the first time since becoming a wife and mother. She had gone to college when she found herself with an empty nest and began working as a teacher's assistant the year after I was born. My mother said it was because my grandpa had retired and my grandmother needed some time away from him. That story has always made me smile.
Of course, I would dutifully visit my grandma and I have good memories of her trying to teach me to crochet (I lacked the patience) and of her taking me and my nieces and nephews to the nearby state park for a picnic. We had chicken sandwiches that she made and they were full of pepper and I had to give the little kids mean looks to get them to shut up about it.
Still, my relationship with my grandma was... different. When I lived in Italy, she wrote me a few heartfelt and tender letters and in recent years, our visits became easier and longer. She would readily tell me she loved me and pat my hand or my cheek. Andrew brought her a lot of joy. Just the other day, she told me that he was "a living doll" and that he can say anything he pleases and that means he is very smart -- "just like his mama," she said.
Earlier this year, my dad took grandma to a doctor who gave her these horrible looking Coke bottle glasses and for the first time in a long time, she could see more clearly. We went to visit her then, to see her new glasses and I will never forget how she patted Andrew's cheek and touched his hair and said "Andrew, I can finally see your beautiful red hair!"
She loved us. I know that for sure. She was a good woman. And we will miss her.
And so today, when that beautiful yellow butterfly caught Andrew's eye and he chased it up and down the length of the beach over and over again laughing and saying "butterfly" it seemed like we were being granted a special visit. Time and again, the butterfly would swoop in front of our faces, almost as if it would land on our noses and then flutter away only to return to us. This went on for a long while before Andrew tired and raised his arms to me and said "home, Mama."
I imagined for a moment that Grandma had something to do with our encounter with the butterfly on the beach. In my mind, I could picture her being asked "which wonder of the world would you like to see today, Clara? The Pyramids? The Great Wall? The Taj Mahal?" and my grandmother would have answered "I want only to see my great-grandson on the beach, with the afternoon sun shining on his beautiful red hair." And the Lord would have said, "My good and faithful servant, I can do much better than that." And so he gave her a pair of wings of yellow and black and he placed her on the sand where my curious boy delighted in her beauty and chased her up and down the beach and laughed as she flitted by, calling "butterfly, fly fly, butterfly fly fly."