Thursday, November 24, 2011
Morning Thanks--Grandma Dirkse
Once upon a time, women weren't supposed to wear slacks to church because people thought only skirts or dresses were "proper" for women.
Not my grandma. She liked the new, wrinkle-free, double-knits because they stretched enough through the seat and always--always--held their press. One winter afternoon, my grandma told herself that not wearing slacks to church was downright silly and went off to Ladies Aid in her new drawers.
Grandma never walked fast that I remember, so she must have made a show of it that first day. No one said a thing, of course, so the Bible study plodded along just like usual, I'm sure, the women nodding at most everything the preacher said.
After the preacher closed with prayer, some of the women got up to set coffee and cookies.
"Why, Mabel," Alma said, "I must admit that can't believe you're wearing pants in church."
"Oh, it's not the first time," my grandma told her. "I've been wearing pants to church for as long as I've lived."
My grandma loved pulling fast ones. She was a jokester and something of a liberal, you might say. When my father, her son-in-law and a preacher's kid, felt strongly that his soon-to-be high school-age daughters should not attend dances--after all, the church warned against it--she suggested to him that he lighten up a bit. She was a comic and a goof ball, who had suffered in her life more than her share of tragedies. By everyone's estimation, my grandma on my father's side was an angel. Mabel wasn't. Maybe that's why I liked her.
It's Grandma Dirkse I remember every Thanksgiving. When she was younger, she was the holiday's queen. Even now, a quarter century after her death, the smell of a roast turkey reminds me of how she used to stand at the table behind the chairs while everyone was seated, then look around at her family and nod, as if heaven itself were only a block down the sidewalk.
I wasn't home for her last Thanksgiving. My sister's family had her over, along with my parents. But in my imagination I can see it all--the table drawn out into the living room, the inviting smell of turkey and stuffing wafting through the rooms, the tinkling of forks against my sister's china.
And when that grand holiday was over, Grandma leaned into the car and sat beside my parents, ready to embark on the trip home. "That was a good Thanksgiving," she told them, her last words. Her head fell sideways, and my father, sensing something bad, sped off to the hospital, only blocks away, where she died.
She played this last little joke on us, dying when she did, so that every Thanksgiving her memory haunts my holiday.
But that's okay. Maybe Thanksgiving becomes too easily a recital of "things-we-have": a brand new wide-screen, an iPad, and theater-quality sound system. Somehow Grandma's death reminds me of the silliness of such recitals, reminds me of what God gave her--joy in life through faith, joy not earned but freely given.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, but gratitude needs no special calendar date. It's not a costume we pull out once a year, but the kind of old hoodie that feels as if you were born in it--it's a way of life.
I like to think Grandma, even today, thinks of herself as the Thanksgiving queen. And I like to think that up there or wherever her soul abides, she's still pulling a joke once in a while and remembering how she plunked herself for years in the middle of this holiday. She certainly pulled a fast one.
And for that, this morning, this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful. Right now, I can see her nodding, just the way she used to when she sees these words appear on my computer screen. For Grandma Dirkse, heaven is no longer a block away.
I just bet she's dancing.