(Continued from last Tuesday . . . )
Dad, Mom, my little brother, and I attended Grandpa’s visitation at McGulley’s Funeral Parlor. A large crowd of milling women and men packed the main room and the hallway.
Grandpa seemed to be taking a nap when I saw him in the casket. When I tried to nudge him, Mom whispered, “He won’t wake up, Dodo, your grandpa’s with God now.”
“That’s Grandpa!” I insisted. “Look at him!”
“This just looks like Grandpa. He’s in heaven.”
Seeing my confusion, Mom reminded me of the black snake that lived in a hole behind our chicken coop. “Remember how we found his skin? How he’d shed it and left it behind for us to find?”
I did remember. I remembered how the snake’s paper-thin skin had stirred in the breeze when I’d held it up to the light. I remembered that the skin had the snake’s shape but it wasn’t him any longer. He’d scooted out of it.
Empty skin of a Grass Snake.
“This is just like that. Grandpa’s in heaven now. This is just the skin he left behind.”
“It looks just like him,” I said, content.
We moved aside so the next mourners could view Grandpa’s body. For what seemed a long time, we stood in the receiving line. When I needed to go to the bathroom. Mom told me how to get there. I cautiously wove my way through the crush of people. I’d tug at a trousered leg or a dress skirt and look up and say, “Excuse me please.”
Then the man or woman or the group of mourners would abruptly cease their talking, look down at me, and move aside so I could slip between them. Slowly I moved through a jungle of legs.
Pushing open the restroom door, I saw a young woman with a baby. Her blouse was pushed aside and she was holding the baby against her chest. I stood slack-jawed, enthralled.
Zanzibari woman breastfeeding.
“Hello,” she said.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What are you feeding him?”
“He’s drinking milk? From your chest?” The news astounded me.
“Yes. My body makes it for him. He sucks it from my breast.”
I stood silent. Awestruck.
She smiled at me and asked if I’d like to touch the baby. I hesitantly stepped forward and gently touched his downy head. She and Howard reminded me of the picture in Mom’s missal of Mary and the Baby Jesus.
Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi.
I excused myself, used the toilet, and washed my hands. Then, remembering my manners, I said, “It’s been nice meeting you and Howard. He’s a good baby.”
When she smiled again, I confided, “That’s not my grandpa in there. He’s with God.”
“I’m glad to know that.”
“That’s just his snake skin,” I assured her as I pushed open the door.
Later I told Mom what had happened. “And that baby was sucking milk,” I said. “From her chest! Did you do that with me?”
Mom said she hadn’t because I’d stayed in the hospital with asthma. “You were allergic to my milk,” she said. “But I did nurse your little brother for a few days. You just don’t remember.”
Then she said words I’ve never forgotten. Words that have guided my response to the many changes and happenings in my life.
“Anna Dolores, I want you to remember that woman and her baby . . . “
“His name’s Howard.”
“Well, I want you to remember them. Remember what you learned tonight.”
“What’s that, Mama?”
“That out of death comes life.”
I didn't know what she meant.
“You’re sad that Grandpa’s dead. But now you’re happy that you met Howard and his mama. Good can come out of everything, even death. Remember that.”
A few days later, I needed to hold on to Mom’s words, but that’s the story for next Tuesday. I hope to see you then.
(Continued next Tuesday . . . )
Both photographs from Wikipedia.