01 June 2010
Mary Merchant, 1919-2010
My maternal grandmother passed away Saturday night. It was expected, as her body had been slowly failing her for quite some time. Her health was, in fact, one of the main reasons for my visit in March, as I knew it was likely that I wouldn't get another chance to see her. Hospice was called in a few weeks ago, and being the phenomenal organization they are, they were a tremendous help in easing her transition from this existence to the next.
As is often the way of grandmothers, my Manana (a moniker that came from a cousin's faltering attempts at saying "my Nana", and which a younger cousin would much later shorten to Menah) was an exceptional woman. She was her high school's valedictorian (a new young state senator by the name of Strom Thurmond gave the commencement address) and star girl's basketball player and, according to my grandfather, was the best bareback mule racer in the area.
The photo above is from just after their wedding in 1936, which was just 5 days after her 17th birthday. They first lived in a cabin across the road from her parents, where they had their first child, and from which she went out the next day to work in the fields. It was the Great Depression, and not working was a luxury they couldn't afford.
A few years later, when they bought land about a mile down the road and built the home she would spend the rest of her life in, she and my grandfather fenced in 80 acres of pasture working side-by-side. Having fenced in a smaller section of that same pasture, I know very well what a feat it was, but their relationship was always one of equal partners, and it was from her that I learned about the grace and beauty of a strong woman. Even as her body betrayed her, she maintained her wit and her ability to laugh, but she knew it was time to go and she was ready for it.
Yes, I will miss her dearly, because how could you not miss someone so fiercely wonderful? But it's a bittersweet sort of loss, because in the end there's so much of her in me and in everyone else whose lives she touched. And I can't think of any tribute more beautiful than keeping that part of her alive and sharing it with everyone in my own life. Because again, how could you not?