At my grandmother’s funeral I sit on the front row watching my mother speak. I am always in awe watching her stand so confidently in front of a crowd. She always speaks clearly and always smiles. Her 4’11” frame barely rises over the podium. As I watch her speak so highly of her mother I look at her face. For as long as I can remember she has worn glasses that are far too large for her small face. I have always thought it was to take the attention off her nose. My mother has what has always been called, “the Forgy nose.” Her nose is rather large with a perfect bump on the bridge for holding glasses up and it hooks at the bottom nearly touching the top of her lip. It is the Forgy nose.
My mother and two aunts inherited the nose from their father, my grandfather. I have often looked at photos of my grandfather (whom I never met because he died before I was born) and at pictures of my grandmother and never could I see any resemblance. I have been told numerous times that I look like my father, a Klesath. I have Klesath blood coursing through my veins, “no Forgy in me at all” they say. I just smile politely.
Forgy women are strong yet they would shrug and tell you differently. They are humble and reserved. Their backs have carried heavy loads and yet they are still standing. They are still going, with their faith they stay strong.
My grandmother, Eleanor Forgy was 79 when she died. She died with a smile on her face. I am happy for that fact. Although, I never knew her, there is a sudden tug to have her near me. I sit here listening to the stories people tell about a great woman. I long for her presence.
I perk up when I hear about her cinnamon rolls. “She made the best cinnamon rolls– that is one thing we will all miss,” says a stranger. All around this stranger there are nods of agreement. Who are these women who loved and adored my grandmother?
I feel like a stranger in this place. It feels dark and cold. This room has no windows. It is a church with no windows. Churches with no windows always irritate me. God is outside and His light cannot shine through without windows. I pull my sweater closer to me and close my eyes.
I can smell her cinnamon rolls now and my heart skips a beat. I am seven years old and it is still dark outside. I roll the covers off of me. I hear noises in the kitchen and see the light coming through the doorway. I tip toe down the hall and through the living room. My heart is beating so quickly I know she will hear me. I peak around the corner and I see her. My heart is racing by now, but I must know what she is doing. There is sweat on her forehead and I see a large amount of dough being rolled out. She is concentrating so hard, focusing on her task ahead. I know she is enjoying herself. I ache to roll out the dough with her. The sweet smell of yeast and cinnamon is overpowering. I am just getting the courage to step forward when her eyes shoot straight at me. I freeze.
“Go to bed now before I tan your hide!”
I race to my room and practically fly under the covers as the tears stream down. My heart is racing. I am aching to be near my mother but she is upstairs and I would have to pass the kitchen to get there.
“Why doesn’t she like me?” I ask my mother when my grandmother leaves.
“Oh, honey your grandmother has her favorites and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. It just means she only has room for some.” My mother says as she holds me and rubs my back.
I open my eyes and my mother’s speech is over. The pastor stands up and says a few things. I have never liked it when a pastor speaks at a funeral. It is clear he didn’t really know her and his sentiment seems surreal. However he appears better than others. He mentions my grandmother’s car. It was a large car and my grandmother was small, 4’9” to be exact. It was quite a spectacle in this small town. To see her small frame barely rise above the steering wheel was humorous to people it seems as I hear them chuckle in remembrance. Eleanor’s determination to drive this beast of a car despite what other people thought reminds me of someone. I smile because that someone is one I see in the mirror every morning. I feel my grandmother now. I feel her inside me, a familiarity that courses through me.
After the funeral we all go to the hotel. Tomorrow we will see her house. I can barely wait. As I sit staring at the ceiling wishing my mother would stop snoring I think about this woman I never knew. I don’t miss her because I feel there was nothing to miss. She never held me in her arms, she never kissed my skinned knee, and she never read me a story. I didn’t know this stranger that lived near the big beautiful trees in the mountains.
We roll up to the place where my grandmother lived. As we are about to walk up the steps I see a beautiful garden of flowers. It is October, but it is still green. I recognize some of the plants, Echinacea, thyme, oregano, and others I don’t recognize. Oh, how I wish I could ask her what these were.
We walk upstairs and I am astounded by what I see. The one bedroom apartment is packed to the hilt with knickknacks, books, and furniture. You can barely walk in this place. My heart soars with excitement when I notice the plants. Grandma had plants all over and they were healthy and green. A familiar feeling creeps over me once again and I feel her near me.
“She loved plants and herbs?” I ask, my heart racing.
“Oh yes, mom loved to garden and she believed in herbs and natural healing just like you.” My mom says with a smile. “I wish you could have known her– you would have liked her.”
Who was this stranger? Who was this person who lived and died here? As I try to take it all in the voices in the back ground fade. The picture of the horse on the wall fascinates my daughter and my son just stares in awe. As for me I am drinking it all up and trying desperately to hold on to this woman I never knew.
It is difficult to walk through the place without tripping on all the people in the room. It is hard to move. As we leave my mother asks if there is anything I want to take home. I shrug. I didn’t know her and I don’t want to take something other people may want. Yet as we are walking out I ask if I could have a plant.
“Just one to remember her by.”
I pick a small asparagus fern and begin to walk out the door. I stop suddenly. There is only one trail out to the door so my relatives behind me have to stop. My eye spies the macramé hanging from the ceiling and the vines trailing all over it.
“Would it be all right if I have that one also?”
I am embarrassed. The thing is five feet long and my car is already packed to the hilt. However, I know this is the one I really want. My aunts and uncles chuckle as they help me put this giant in my car. We have to squeeze it between my children’s car seats. I am so happy. I have a part of my grandmother and love it because it is something that is living and breathing. It is something she touched.
At my grandmother’s house I took my digital camera and took pictures of the knickknacks and photos that hung on the wall. Later when I am home I look at the photos of my grandmother. I see her in a clown costume. She has her arms open wide and she is smiling. Except when I look closer I see sadness in her eyes. It is a familiar pain. I recognize it because my mother has the same brown eyes and the same sadness. I have never been able to look my mother in the eye because I can see her sadness. It screams out at me, begging me to help her. I look away quickly from the photo because I can feel the pain.
I too have the same brown eyes. I know that some days if one were to look closely enough they would see what I hide. I gather my strength from the women I watched while I was growing up. I never spoke much just observed the women around me. My aunt Pat was beaten by her husband for many years until one day she hit back. When she did he never laid another hand upon her. I found this out when I was eight years old. I promised myself I would never allow a man to lay one finger upon me.
My mother told me that my great-grandfather used to beat my grandmother. I met him once when he was 94 years old. He frightened me terribly because of his eyes. He had cataracts that covered both his eyes. He was sitting in a rocking chair and my cousins and I were sitting on the floor next to him. We were waiting for him to finish his story. I asked a question, which is something I always did. My great-grandfather went into a rage and yelled at us to leave. We were all so frightened we ran away screaming. He didn’t die until he was 103. My grandmother took care of him until then.
When grandma was 75 she went backpacking in the mountains to feed the hunters. Many people in the family worried about her. Somehow I knew she would be fine. I hope that I will do the same at 75.
My grandmother loved to be in the mountains. She would go with the cowboys when they would move the cattle. She would feed the cowboys. I also found out that my grandmother was a free spirit– apparently celibacy wasn’t one of her virtues.
Grandma’s faith in Jesus grew strong in her last 10 years. I think she found peace. Most of her days were filled with people. My mother went to visit her for a week one time and she decided to call me. For the first time since I was little I got to speak to my grandmother. I was so nervous I had no idea what to say. Her voice sounded so small on the telephone. I just said hello. She asked me how I was and how the children were doing. I said they were fine. The last thing she ever said to me was, “I love you, sweetie.” I nearly cry writing these words because those words meant more to me than anything. I got to have peace with my grandmother before she died.
Throughout my adult life I got to hear bits and pieces about my grandmother and her wild ways. After the funeral I felt closeness with her that I never felt when she was alive. Her love of the mountains courses through my veins and my love of freedom is the same. The same blood runs through me and I know she is always close to my heart. Her strength and endurance to withstand the hardships is something I inherited from her. Her faith was immeasurable.
The day she died she went to a friend and said she thought she was having a heart attack. The lady reassured her that she would be fine. However my grandmother said, “No, it is my time. I am going to meet Jesus.” She said this with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. A few hours later she was in the arms of Jesus. Grandma Eleanor died with a smile upon her face and hope that she would meet her maker. She had no fear, which is something I know my grandmother learned throughout her life.
I hold my grandmother near and whenever I am afraid I just ask myself, would she be afraid? Now when someone tells me they see no Forgy in me I just smile and say, “There is far more Forgy in me than you will ever know.”