When I was 16, she went to be with Jesus; 20 years ago today.
We buried her on what would have been her 70th birthday.
At 16, I thought that was old.
At 36, I realize I’m more than half way there.
Ms. Irene Chambers played hard to get with my grandfather. She wouldn’t date him until she turned 18 and on her birthday, he gave her a guitar. I never saw her play it.
Yet, it stands in the corner of my house in it’s original case. The edges are worn and it smells of age.
My grandfather was a carpenter and a minister and he apparently swept sweet Irene off her feet with that guitar.
Three kids and a church plant later, my grandfather died. My mom, the youngest, was only seven.
A bit of sweet Irene died with him.
Not even a few years later, sweet Irene was wooed and romanced by the man I called Granddaddy. I think she felt rescued; perhaps they rescued each other. He was a widower with no children.
She taught 4-year-old Sunday School for more than 25 years and she wore gold lamé wedge house shoes, size 7 narrow.
My brother and I would spend the night at their house on N. Highland Ave and she would pull the yellow and white plaid comforters up under our necks. In the mornings, she would make pancakes and scrambled eggs, extra crispy bacon and orange juice in small glasses.
I have those glasses too.
She would pull a Golden Book from the bookcase my grandfather built and read them to me. She filed her fingernails with a rounded tip and her hands were so, so soft.
I have those Golden Books too.
It was Thanksgiving 1993. We were at my parent’s house when I saw her fall against the basement door as she walked back from the kitchen towards the living room, my Granddaddy grabbing a hold of her elbow to steady her.
Sweet Irene had been having dizzy spells lately; news to all of us and yet something was obviously very wrong.
Some lame doctor that had been not so thorough had merely adjusted her blood pressure medication. And, my grandparents had swallowed it whole like a spoonful of sugar.
The adults sat at the kitchen table later that day, my parents digging to get the whole story, the whole truth from my grandparents.
Generationally, I know they took that doctor’s diagnosis as spoken from the mouth of God, yet his less than thorough examination had allowed cancer to continue its’ march in and through my Grandmother’s body.
It was in her brain, the cancer. A tumor had spread like a spider’s web throughout her brain slowly robbing her of her physical and cognitive functionality.
Ms. Cancer Spider spun her web inside my Grandmother’s mind, tying her up in a web of death.
Radiation and chemotherapy began immediately and by Christmas Day, it was near impossible to be of good cheer.
She’d lost most of hair and wore a turban-like hat. She had the puffiness that comes with chemo and the red lines across her face and head marked the target for the radiologist.
She was in a wheelchair wearing teal pants and an ivory shirt with sequined flowers giggling like a school girl.
She was not my grandmother, but a shell of the woman she once was.
She wasn’t in the kitchen rolling out her famous buttermilk biscuits or making creamed corn in her seasoned iron skillet. She didn’t ask me to read the Christmas story in my angel costume, like I’d done in the same room as a child.
She was dying. Ms. Cancer Spider tying her tighter and tighter in her web of death.
I’d made Homecoming Court that winter and her goal was to make it to the school to see me in my pretty dress. But, by the time Homecoming rolled around, sweet Irene had begun to come and go.
Lying in the hospital bed in her bedroom, I put on my fancy dress and pulled my hair up in a clip, fixed my make up just so and stood on her now vintage vanity bench so she could see me.
A single tear fell down her right cheek and she tried her best to get her only good arm around me for a hug. And, as clear as day, she said,
I love you. Take care of your mom.
As far as I know, it was the last time she spoke. And, if it wasn’t, it was the last time she spoke to me.
Less than two weeks later, my name was called over the school speaker at the start of lunch time. I knew in my gut she was gone and had the confirmation when I saw my father standing in the office.
Sweet Irene was singing with the angels. No more web of death. No more hurt and bitterness. No more regrets to swallow and no more biscuits to roll out.
No more battles to fight, sweet Warrior Irene.
My Grandmother could stand face to face with Jesus in ultimate victory and say,
Praise the Lord!
Just like she did on earth, she now gets the honor of doing it in heaven.
Happy 20th Home-going, sweet Irene. I love you and Mom is just fine.