While clearing out my mother’s house after her death I came across an old King James Bible. Its rough leather cover was thin and cracked; the pages yellow with age. On the inside of the cover was a name, printed in pencil, Mrs. Jehu Hank Worley. This was Minnie’s bible and that inscription had to have been written before she went blind in her 60s. This was the Bible from which I read almost every day after she came to live with us.
I could not have been older than ten or eleven when I began reading to Grandma. That book had been her constant companion as she raised nine children of her own and four grandchildren. What a blow it must have been to know she would never read from it again. But there was a granddaughter who didn’t seem to be good for much else around the house, so she was given the task of reading to Grandma. I remember sitting in a chair in that upstairs room as Grandma lay in her bed listening to the beloved words.
Grandma’s hair was still coal black with streaks of white and she brushed it 100 strokes every night before plaiting it into a thick braid. In the mornings she would undo the braid and twist it into a bun, fastening it with big tortoise shell hairpins and combs. Finding her way in the endless dark, she would come downstairs and sit in a rocker in the kitchen. My mother and sisters spoke of the prophecies of Armageddon and God’s wrath Grandma would talk of constantly. But I only remember our reading sessions.
It was here that I fell in love with the lilting phrases of the King James Bible. Her Bible lies open before me now:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me”…
“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me”…
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you….”
Grandma’s favorite books were Genesis, Psalms and Revelation. As I read them to her I would argue about this or that statement in the Bible. “Why did God tell the Israelites to kill all those people in the Promised Land?” was a recurring argument as I recall. Grandma didn’t mind if I doubted or disagreed with scripture. She would patiently explain the passages and let me wonder at them. This gave me permission to explore my faith and check it out for myself.
Grandma was a devout Christian and as such I am sure she was a woman of prayer. She could not have known what was going on in the life of hr granddaughter, but I’m as sure as I can be that she prayed for that little girl and asked God to direct her paths; maybe even to use her to His glory. I didn’t think of this until I was asked to write a few words about the source of the poem, Minnie Remembers. Her portrait, with the poem in calligraphy superimposed upon it, hung on the wall above my typewriter. As I sat there wondering what to write, I suddenly had a memory of that little girl sitting with her grandmother, holding her Bible. And I knew. I knew she had prayed for me; that the doors Minnie Remembers had opened were a direct result of her petitions to God to use this headstrong, argumentative child for His service.
And now, her prayers for her grandchild are coming to fruition. SPLINTERS OF LIGHT, a collection of poetry and prose from forty years of writing is now available.
(The poem that opened all the doors.)
God, my hands are old.
I’ve never said that out loud before,
but they are.
I was so proud of them once.
They were soft
like the velvet smoothness of a firm, ripe peach.
Now the softness is more like worn-out sheets
or withered leaves.
When did these slender, graceful hands
become gnarled, shrunken claws?
They lie here in my lap,
naked reminders of this body
that has served me too well.
How long has it been since someone touched me?
Twenty years I’ve been a widow;
But never touched.
Never held so close that loneliness
was blotted out.
I remember how my mother used to hold me, God.
When I was hurt in spirit or in flesh,
she would gather me close,
stroke my silky hair
and caress my back with her warm hands.
O God, I’m so lonely!
I remember the first boy who ever kissed me.
We were both so new at that.
The taste of young lips and popcorn,
the feeling inside of mysteries to come.
I remember Hank and the babies.
How else can I remember them but together?
Out of the fumbling, awkward attempts of new lovers
came the babies.
And as they grew, so did our love.
And God, Hank didn’t seem to mind
if my body thickened and faded a little.
He still loved it and touched it.
and we didn’t mind if we were no longer beautiful.
And the children hugged me a lot.
O God, I’m lonely.
God, why didn’t we raise the kids to be silly
as well as dignified and proper?
You see, they do their duty.
They drive up in their fine cars.
They come to my room and pay their respects.
They chatter brightly and reminisce.
But they don’t touch me.
They call me “Mom”
My mother called me Minnie.
So did my friends.
Hank called me Minnie, too.
But they’re gone now,
And so is Minnie.
Only Grandma is here.
And God, she’s lonely!
c.1974 donna swanson, from SPLINTERS OF LIGHT