Y’all when I say this one struck home I mean it. The person I needed growing up was my memaw, and she was there every single time without fail.
You see, I didn’t have the best childhood. My dad was an alcoholic, and not the fun kind, but the kind who took all his anger out on whoever or whatever was in front of him. Unfortunately, a lot of times that ended up being me, my brother, or the walls and furniture of our home. I can remember him coming home drunk and just putting holes in the walls or spanking my brother or me for absolutely no reason. During this time I stayed with my memaw during the day while my parents worked; and the happiest times of my childhood were spent at her house. I can remember her constantly singing or humming old gospel hymns. That sound, to me, meant safety. As long as I heard that sound I knew I was in a place where no-one could hurt me. I was in a place where I could just be a kid and not have to worry about the grown ups around me. I was in a place of freedom.
But, it turns out, it’s the things I don’t remember that made my memaw such a special person to me. I was at my grandma’s house yesterday and my 4 year old asked about her mama, which got us reminiscing about memaw. And my grandma asked me if I remember praying with memaw every morning as soon as I got there. I don’t. She told me that every morning when I got to memaw’s house, I would say “Memaw we need to pray for my daddy because he did such and such last night.” And every morning, without questions or hesitation, memaw would get down on her knees with me in front of the couch and pray with me for my daddy.
I’m convinced my memaw’s prayers are a large part in my dad giving up alcohol when I was 10. But, by that age, the damage had been done. I was angry at him, and honestly at almost 31 years old, I still am. I can remember telling memaw one day that I knew I shouldn’t be mad at him because we’re supposed to forgive everybody and I’ll never forget what she said. She sat me down and said “Honey, you have every right to be angry with him. Being angry is normal, but holding onto that anger is what will get you. You eventually gotta let that anger go. Not for your daddy, but for yourself, because one day that anger will become so deeply rooted in you it won’t let go no matter how hard you try. Yes, you’re supposed to forgive everybody, and I know that’s hard, but it’s the forgetting that’s near impossible. You’ll remember some of these days for the rest of your life, and sometimes those memories will bring that anger back. When it does just remember you’ve gotta let it go.” I’ve tried to live by that since then.
When I turned 17 I moved in with my memaw to take care of her because she had gotten Alzheimer’s disease. If you don’t know what Alzheimer’s is consider yourself blessed. I had to watch the smartest, sweetest woman I’ve ever known forget who I am. And, that is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. She didn’t sing or hum anymore. She didn’t remember the pranks she used to pull on me. She didn’t remember the days and years we spent together. She didn’t just forget my name, she forgot me. But I stayed, and I helped in any way I could, not because I felt like I had to, but because she took care of me when I needed it the most. When I graduated high school and started college my grandma made the decision to put her in a nursing home. I tried to talk her out of it by saying I could put off college until we found someone who could take care of her at home, but by that point she needed constant supervision. She lived next to a busy highway and crossed it by herself one night because we didn’t hear her get up. Thank God she was ok and a neighbor found her but that was when I knew that no matter how much I wanted to keep her at home, I just wasn’t capable of giving her the care she needed. The day we took her to the nursing home she had a lucid moment and she told me that watching me grow up was one of the highlights of her life and that she was proud of me. I promised myself in that moment that when I had kids I would strive everyday to make them feel the way I felt with memaw.
I know I fail at that a lot, but I also know when my children are with me they feel safe, they can just be kids, and I am their freedom. And I owe it all to the woman I needed when I was growing up.