“I hate Delia! I hate Delia! I hate Delia! She is not my mother! So I don’t care what Granny says, I do not have to honor her. ” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1974.
They found their grandmother, where Nancy had the previous day, sitting in a chair next to their father’s bed, apparently reading the newspaper to him.
“Brian! Amanda! You are both a sight for old eyes,” exclaimed Ann Stewart brightening as she watched her grandchildren advancing toward her with Nancy bringing up the rear.
“Hi GiGi!” both exclaimed almost simultaneously, leaning in to hug and plant kisses on Ann’s cheeks. Mandy sensed a new frailty in her grandmother, a slight change of posture, a shrinking, but there was no denying the brightness and twinkle in her eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. GiGi was still there, the bright sharp woman who had let them build forts with blankets while she herself played the monster coming to capture them, the woman who had cooked their favorite foods, and tended them when they were sick so their Mom could teach and their Dad take care of the farm. And there was the bite of it again, Dad.
For the longest moment she purposefully kept her attention on her grandmother, trying desperately to control the panic that had her heart racing and her gut in knots, a smile plastered on her face. While peripherally Brian moved from his grandmother to the bed, Mandy froze. It took every ounce of self restraint that she could muster not to run from the room. She could hear Brian talking softly to their Dad which only reinforced her panic.
“Mandy?” Her grandmother’s soft tone startled her. She jumped ever so slightly as if zapped by static electricity. She looked into Ann’s face finding no reproof only the same love and encouragement she’d found all those times in her childhood when she hung back from some new challenge. First day of middle school popped into her brain.
She had stood petrified in front of the full length hall mirror, wearing the seventh outfit she had tried on, the debris scattered across her bedroom evidence of her indecisiveness. She hated everything she saw in the mirror, especially her hair. Why oh why was she the only one in her family to inherit the Wingate carrot colored curly mess? On the verge of breaking into sobs, feigning illness, her stomach indeed did not feel right, her grandmother had stepped in behind her clutched her shoulders and swung her around on her heels.
“Amanda Wingate, you will not let fear keep you from sixth grade! You look fine and this isn’t about looks anyway, this is about growing up and becoming everything God wants you to be. If you hide in your room, you may be safe, but I can’t guarantee that. So my advice stop looking in the mirror and start looking out at the brand new world of middle school.”
None of what Gigi said made any sense, but the look in her eyes, the same look she had now had propelled Mandy out the front door. Mandy’s memories of that first day were vague, but she had not died of embarrassment in fact her middle school and high school days were some of the best ones she had. That encouraging, challenging look that only Gigi could produce stared up at her now.
Mandy swiveled on her heels, took in the bed and its occupant, looked into the face, yes still her Dad, but so still, so vacant, SO not her Dad! The panic threatened again, but before it took hold she stepped past Brian, leaned over, laying her head on her father’s chest and hugged him.
“One giant step for Mandy.” Brian quipped.
“Really! Brian!” She turned and punched him in the arm.
Delia settled in the back of the large SUV. The Colonel had insisted on sitting up front with the young–they were all so young–Airman 1st Class, who had been assigned to transport them for the funeral. Delia studied the landscape as they left Wichita Falls headed north. They had never been stationed here, but having made the obligatory visits to Frank’s mother and Ellie over the years, she felt a calm familiarity with the surroundings. The flat land with the dome like sky created a sensation like living in a snow globe, except for the infernal heat.
She hadn’t napped on the plane. She’d been a bit anxious about Frank. A military officer herself she’d never been one for maternal hovering or sentimentality nor was she now, but her new found faith had prompted unexplored feelings toward others, especially Frank. Not that anxiousness fit with all she was absorbing, in fact, hadn’t they just read, where was it? “Be anxious for nothing.” Maybe Philippians or Galatians, one of those. He had stared straight ahead, ram rod straight in his seat for the entire flight. Conversation with him had been perfunctory, so Delia had prayed not just for him, but for Clara and for herself.
Now with Frank in the front seat making a little conversation with the Airman, she leaned back and napped. They’d be in the midst of the storm in very little time, a storm that the Delia and Frank of 40 years ago had created. “Oh, Ellie,” she thought as she drifted into sleep. “I am so sorry.”