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  • Shanley McConnell

Graduation Day: To The Dearest Great Grandmother & All Who Loved Her

Updated: Jul 19

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We used to play cards every night. She had one of those old-fashioned, wooden contraptions that was always filled to the brim with M&M's, ready to colour waiting, open hands. Her wardrobe smelt of fresh linen and hid a couple dozen tapes for the videocassette recorder in the corner of the bedroom.


We ate chocolate pudding while I played with stuffed D'osquitos, the dog that barked at the touch of an overused button. I remember the first time she figured out how to turn on that black box of a laptop on her desk----we had to keep calling her son, who, at that time, I figured must've been as old as my grandfather, which he was, just nearly. The power switch was on the left side of the letters. I'd swung my legs back and forth as I sat on the edge of the bed as we waited for solitaire to load.


I must've been about six because we watched Bambi later that night, and, because I was still afraid of the hunters, I was allowed to sleep-over beside her. I'd promised that the stereo turned low that night wouldn't bother me; I listened to it all night long watching the green outside rattle and shake against the window.


My great grandmother lived in a tree-house; the one side of it balanced over a cliff of dirt and garden. In the mornings, we would carry the stereo outside and dig weeds on flat pillows of squishy foam; I always chose the yellow one. It was bright like all the daffodils planted a few rows above the tomatoes and courgettes.


The trees outside her porch also welcomed the owls with their wooden faces; she had brought them to life sometime in the middle of hers. She loved frogs. Everywhere, there were frogs. Glass frogs. Plastic frogs. Frogs with bulging eyes. Farmer frogs leaning on a pitchfork. A frog dressed for the ballet. Frogs that looked like flamingos with their legs criss-crossed.


Sometimes we would eat breakfast in the TV room, and I would sit on a wooden ladybug with my orange juice and cereal. Then, we would get dressed, and, because I was always just a bit faster, I would lay on the carpet and look at duck family; they had lined up before the brick fireplace before I was born, and there they remained until the house was sold years and years later.


Mountain Findings was a boutique of a charity shop just around Sunset Rock, down past the Library and Mainstreet. I loved Mountain Findings; there was always something there to buy you never thought you'd ever want to own. Like porcelain statuettes with broken limbs or coffee mugs with labels like 'Hands Off - Property of the Ole' Crab' and 'i got you this cheesy mug because olive you a lot.' Nothing ever really made sense in Mountain Findings, and yet, it was a Wonder Emporium for the little great grandchild who sat on the stool beside her great grandmother as they priced odds and ends.


Sometimes we would stop en route home to buy Black Cherry Fizz; my great grandmother always bought it in bulk. She would pour it into striped glasses so we could drink it swinging on the swing chair. We loved that swing chair. You couldn't see much because the trees were so thick and the sky so small in between, but that didn't seem to matter so much as the shade, see?


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My great grandmother was allergic to shellfish. Still, every holiday, we dipped our shrimp in Marie Rose, and dished out a deck of cards at wine time. I knew just how she liked it: three to four ice cubes in a chilled glass half filled with chardonnay.


We always finished our sparkly while the meal was still simmering over the stove, and sometimes the parents would say, 'slow down, Mom,' when she asked for another drink. My great grandmother didn't really listen to anyone telling her what to and not do. She would wink at me to crawl under the table and retrieve the bottles of fizz and wine for ourselves; this was when I was too young to know that alcohol isn't good for the old soul------it turns their hair white.


Thanksgiving was the best time of year because my Papa would wake me up early in the morning, and we would all walk to the car in our footsie pyjamas still rubbing our eyes awake. And when the car rolled into Eagle's Trace Drive, the smell of pumpkin waffles and whipped cream would always win-over sleep. I remember this holiday most because of the two red stools at the granite; those were our seats, my great grandmother's and I. We wrote out a list and numbered every float that starred in the Macy's Day Parade, and when my tiny fingers cramped after about seven or eight spelling errors, we turned to Crazy Eight's and Ace's Up.


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On my eleventh birthday, I remember all the times they asked me what I wanted to do, and I choose you. I wanted to sit beside at your feet on the rug, overlooking John Knoxx Village where you lived on Florida Days in the Sunshine State. You had a window the length of a wall, and from it, we could see the swans preening their feathers at the shore of the pond. Before my red shoes could even touch the floor from where I sat in the front seat of your Sedan, you were there-----driving me South of the highway towards the leather-bound book I wanted most of all. We brought it home, wrapped it in brown paper, and spent three hours peeling plastic off stickers. You taught me how to use a ruler to make sure that each one of the tabs-----Genesis, Psalms, John----lined up just right on the pages of my new bible. I spent days running my finger along the smooth surfaces of each word. It was so perfect to me.


In your John Knoxx Apartment, there were Siamese Cats, a grandfather Clock, and artefacts from another generation of travel. There were sea-shells------real and glass-----in the cabinets, and you always set the television to trivia shows. I didn't mind. I just wanted to watch the TV colours brighten the screen; the palette of red and yellow and blue answered all the questions we didn't know. Yours was the first television I remember.


Most times we ate quarter-pounder Jack's Hamburgers with ketchup and horseradish and onions and mustard and french-fries. The joint had paper cups the size of your thumb to fill with condiments and we would squash-flat five pickles in each as appetisers.


You always knew everybody by name; we would come to visit you on weekends and weekdays, and you would introduce us to anybody and everybody nearby. You had a strong mind, like that. And an even stronger memory.


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When I was little, you dotted my lips with red stick and told me I was beautiful. I wanted to look like you because you were something so precious I didn't know the word for it yet. Composure. You carried dignity like the legacy of living a life so rich and loved------like a lullaby sung over your children and their children.


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Red Grapes. You always froze red grapes for us as a treat, poured over ice and soft drinks. I didn't like soda pop so you always saved me a bit of something sweet. You used to say 'oh, my golly' a lot, and when you came to every violin concert, you never complained about how they seemed to drag on; you held my hand as I waited for my turn to perform because you knew how frightened of the stage I was.


I think you could've been an actress. Like Ava Gardner and Judy Garland. Debbie Reynolds. You were the prettiest of them all; you lit up in front of a camera face. For your 90th birthday, we decorated our house like the Oscars and you walked a Red Carpet up the front steps to the dinning room. You deserved every award we could think to create out of cardboard, styrofoam, and sweet things.


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You loved Jesus, and your favourite song was about walking in the garden with Christ. Oh Momo, I miss you. You often spoke of heavenly, and now, now you are living there. I can hardly wait to wrap my arms around you again and 'sing the melody that he gave to thee' at the face of him who has restored you to perfect health.


You are eternal, dearest. And I love you.


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There's so much more I could write about you, Momo, but so many of the memories are still too alive to try and memorialise them just yet. I promise to keep them safe on my lips and in my heart until the times comes to try again.


I'm graduating today, and I dedicate this day to you-----and to the wonderful family you've given me.


Love,

Shanley





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