A treat was toast, thick with sweet creamery butter and sugar on top, velvety crisp with pops of crunchy sweet granules between our teeth. Comfort for any illness was freshly brewed tea and dry toast. Fun was in card games played, songs sung, cookies baked. Patience always present, extended for repeated lessons in crochet and knitting. Tenderness swept across a cheek by a hand, pale and knotty with age. Joy infused the varied and many moments with her: at home, in the quiet when she watched us while our parents traveled to the loud commotion amidst the gifts and wrappings of Christmas with six aunts and uncles, 13 cousins and our family of five. The sought-after prize was her spending the night, her prayer of grace at the dinner table, and kind words extended to all.
I’m not sure how old she was when I was born, but she never seemed to change. She was short, maybe five-feet, a little plump and always in some pale floral dress. Her hands were soft and wrinkled; her nails kept neat, gently curved. She always wore her wedding ring, though her husband died when their oldest, my father, was only 16. She never remarried, and her eyes would fill with tears when talking about her beloved even forty years later. Her cheeks were soft and round and would become rosy with a half glass of wine – she always laughed about that. Her laugh was contagious, light and cheery, song-like. Her hair never changed – short, soft, gray, curls framing her face. And she always wore gray-rimmed, round glasses that accentuated her blue eyes, inviting and kind.
Her name: Loretta Marie (DeMol) O’Connor. Her name to us was Gronkie, given by her oldest grandchild.
She was the matriarch, the glue, the yarn that knit us together, ruling not by rod or wealth or control but by goodness, kindness, compassion, and love.
She was our grandmother. She was my oasis.
I have no doubt that she knew little of the brutality in which I was raised. She knew but she didn’t know of the dry desert in which I resided. She knew but she didn’t know of the hardness in the hearts of each parent. She may have known of some of the blows that landed, but she never knew of the dark nights waiting, wondering when he would make his next coital visit. There certainly was no room for her voice to invite any change into the ridged, closed system of our dark, cold house.
And yet, her voice, her gaze, her kindness always found their way to me.
When she watched over us in our parents’ absence, her presence filled our house like sweet lavender on rolling hills. Her light warmed and illuminated our house. The heavy shroud lifted and darkness fled from every nook and every cranny. The air became breathable as if rain washed in spring, floating through windows open wide.
In her presence, I felt safe; I felt loved. I felt a kind-of warm, soft blanket that rested on my shoulders and wrapped itself around my young, battle-worn body. Her eyes hugged and held me even from across a crowded room. There was a knowing with her that everything was going to work out, somehow, in some mysterious way, everything was going to be okay, that I was okay. In her eyes I was not broken, bad, or undesirable. No, in her eyes I was wanted, I was delighted in, I was loved.
Her presence transported me into a different universe. Standing close, gentle whistles of some Irish tune, soft drumming of fingers on the counter top as I played with her ring on her finger, waiting for the delectable treat baking – chatting, teaching, a recipe handed down. Seated close, sweet chiding bringing no shame as she carefully and thoughtfully taught me, once again, “knit two, purl one,” or “chain and then back post again.” Or opponents across the table top, eyes peering above playing cards, plotting the next move, trying to guess the other’s next move – playful, taunting, laughing, opening hearts.
In her presence our house became a home. In her eyes I saw what my heart longed for – I am loved, I am treasured, I am seen, I am known. And I believe, one day, I will once again hear her soft voice and gaze into her kind, blue eyes, and she will say to me, “Welcome home, Honey. Welcome home.”
Erin’s favorite name to be called is “Grammy.” She enjoys making crafts with, playing board games with, and reading to her granddaughter. Erin has two grown children and lives in a suburb of Chicago. She enjoys mentoring others, reading, writing, and seeing God’s handiwork in nature. Erin is a professional counselor and is a contributing author of several devotionals published in the book Quiet Reflections of Hope. Erin’s hope is to bring goodness and kindness to others as it has been brought to her.nbsp