Beyond Blue

A few days after my posts on the topic of bullying, Beyond Blue reader Barbara sent me an e-mail and asked if, in response to bullying, she might share a piece about her grandmother and how much she meant to her: about those who have shown care for us at times when we really needed it. I thought it was a wonderful idea, since it’s so easy to concentrate on those who have hurt us. I wanted to share with all my Beyond Blue readers a beautiful story by Barbara as one example of celebrating the angels, the heroes, in our lives:

There is a small black and white picture of a little girl in a plaid dress, little jacket, and bonnet standing in the backyard of an old house. She is being held close by a dark-haired woman who is kneeling on the ground next to her. They are both looking directly into the camera’s lens, the woman slightly smiling; the child, a serious expression on her face. Their eyes, the sparkle in the woman’s, and the intensity in the child’s, are riveting. The child, perhaps two or three, is me. The woman is my grandmother, Antoinette Wojciechowski Reilly. She died when I was nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately. Our legacies live on long after we are gone. I wonder about my legacy; what part of me will live on in the lives of my children, grandchildren, and those whose lives have intersected with mine? I don’t know. But I do know the legacy of my grandma.

She seemed to me, to be a large woman. Her bosom was big enough for a child to rest her head upon. Her hands were large, like my daughter, Sarah’s. They showed years of labor, not luxury. She lived in a time when women wore dresses and hose every day. Her shoes, coming back into style now, were black granny shoes, like the nuns in their habits used to wear.

She was not educated. In looking back at the few cards I still have from that time, I’ve come to realize that my grandpa wrote them all. So I wonder, could she write? My mother, her daughter, had to leave school in the fourth grade to work in a factory during the Great Depression. She was always insecure about her writing and spelling. Perhaps my grandma had little schooling as well.

Grandma Reilly taught me to play solitaire. On those times we visited, we would sit side-by-side at the table in her dining room and play cards together. She also crocheted exquisite patterns. She tried to teach me, but I was too young. I have a pair of tea-colored lace tablecloths she crocheted over sixty years ago. She did it all by sight – she could not decipher printed directions.

She played bingo. When she visited us during our Church carnival, she taught me how to play the game. She won often – and though she was only Irish by marriage, she seemed to have their luck. One Christmas back in the 1930s, the story is told, she won three Christmas turkeys – one of them live!

Grandma was the first person in my family I heard pray aloud. She stayed overnight to care for my sister and me on the rare occasions my parents were away. She would lie in the bed next to mine, and I would hear the whispered prayers of the rosary. I remember the sounds of the beads slipping through her fingers. Her faith, I believe, planted the seeds of my own. When I pray that rosary, we pray together across the time.

Why should you, dear reader, care about a woman you never met; who never did “great” things in her life? It is because we can so readily remember all the hurts inflicted on us. We can so easily pull up the insults we’ve borne, the rejections, and pain. They weight heavily in a depressive. The point isn’t to deny them; they are part of our reality. But it also grants those who have damaged us, continued influence in our lives. There is a time for righteous anger, and a time for forgiveness. There is a time to remember the hurtful people, and a time to remember those who were balm for our souls. Remembering the strength they gave us, the love they demonstrated, and the hope they instilled, reminds us of who we are. This depressed child believed she was unlovable. Grandma Reilly’s love continues to contradict that untruth every time it rears its ugly head. I didn’t have to be good enough to love. For that, she remains the icon of Love – open-armed and welcoming. Grandma’s way was one of small loving acts That is why I miss her so. I finally understand.

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