Grandma's Porch

          In my memory the pictures are all in black & white; or maybe it is that the memories themselves are in black & white, so colored with nostalgia are they.

Recently a friend shared that his image of a place of safety, security, and love was sitting with his grandmother on her porch back in Virginia. No matter what conflicts whirled around him at home, no matter what messages of disappointment and disapproval others whispered or shouted at him, no matter how confused he was, this was a place, perhaps the only place, where he received what he needed—peace, space, acceptance—and where the message was that he was valued, that he mattered, just as he was, no matter what.

     This resonated strongly with me. My Grandma Rigal’s house had a large, elevated porch with a concrete columned railing, loose in enough places that the adults repeatedly but ineffectually chided us to stay off it, and several of us sixteen cousins probably did suffer at least one tumble into the honeysuckle bushes below. When we children visited en masse, it was ideal for games of tag, hide & seek, cops & robbers, eating watermelon, or just being together.

     At one end of the porch, there was a glider that would seat two or three adults or as many kids as could cram together, as well as some side chairs, where the adults sat and talked about politics or old relatives, topics we knew nothing about, and where we were invited to sit and visit (we probably never figured out what that meant). But the most special place for us was the porch swing suspended by chains and springs from the ceiling. It was never more magical than when there were just a few of us grandchildren there, when Grandma would sit on that swing with us and play I Spy or I’m Going to Boston. Even though she had a full-time job, even thought she cared for my grandfather through his illnesses, even though she had a house, garden, and large yard to maintain, she never seemed to need to be somewhere else, to give her attention to some other matter. When I was with Grandma Rigal, what I heard, though it was probably seldom articulated, was that I was accepted, I was precious, and I was loved, intentionally and individually.

         One common cause of suffering for those approaching the end of their lives is spiritual pain, usually caused by some form of brokenness. Often there is anger at other people, institutions, or God for hurts received and never healed. For some, that healing can start if they can imagine God not as a capricious Santa Claus or condemning judge, but as a loving relative; in Christianity this is usually articulated with the word “Father.” I have a complicated relationship with my father and his memory, so that image is difficult for me, though time and forgiveness are enabling my recovery and reconciliation. For me, the loving image of God is an old woman librarian who spreads toast with Peter Pan peanut butter and serves it with “breakfast food”, usually Grape Nuts, and heaven is sitting on the porch swing with her, watching the occasional car go by on Maryann Street, and knowing that all is well.