I can summarize my childhood with one simple scene: an early summer morning at my grandparents’ South Georgia house. The birds already singing, the crickets already chirping, the dew still thick on the grass. Their large, white front porch the backdrop for the sweet conversations mixed with Grandma’s freshly brewed coffee (mine half milk of course; I was still a kid).
That front porch was the one on which I sat as Grandpa taught me how to snap green beans, freshly picked from the garden. The one where I could escape the world, swinging back and forth on that wooden front porch swing.
But as the seasons change, so does the backdrop from which you do life. And from which you escape it.
When my dear Grandpa passed away in August of this year, my 24-year-old heart was suddenly struck with the finality of something that not even my college graduation or my wedding could say: my childhood is forever past tense.
A month later, when my two friends and I talked about taking a girls trip to Florida, I looked forward to the chance of healing that only the ocean and the salty sand can provide. And then I had a great idea: why shouldn’t we take Grandma along for the trip as well?
And that’s how myself, Danielle, Alexa, and Grandma took a girls trip to Fort Walton Beach, Florida in the fall of 2018.
Now, before you picture three girls in their twenties taking a gray, old women with huge glasses and a walker to the beach, let me assure you that is not my grandmother. In fact, Grandma was only 46 years old when I was born; hardly an elderly person. Even now, she’s spry and quick-witted, and despite a recent leg injury, she has neither need for a walker nor huge glasses.
Furthermore, in her true selfless style, Grandma insisted she not only pay for our condo on the beach, but that we also take her car. So we loaded up our suitcases and Grandma loaded up at least a week’s worth of food for our three day trip, and we set off for Fort Walton Beach, Florida; where incidentally her sister (my Great Aunt Alta) lives.
Saturday, October 6
Fort Walton Beach is only about a six hour drive from Rome, GA; we left around 8 a.m. and arrived with plenty of time to walk on the beach that evening. We spent most of that night just relaxing–eating Grandma’s homemade chili and swapping stories. Grandma didn’t know Alexa or Danielle before, so she was excited to hear all about Alexa’s upcoming marriage and Danielle’s upcoming move to India. We all agreed that the weather was perfect, and the rest was much needed.
Sunday, October 7
Grandma and the other girls woke up early to watch the sunrise while I slept in (#noregrets). Then we all headed off to church with Aunt Alta and some other extended family members. As the parting hymn “Amazing Grace” swelled from the band, I felt tears silently slipping down my cheeks. The fact that it played at Grandpa’s funeral was not lost on me, and I looked over at Grandma to see her eyes wet as well. I reached my arm around her, and we both smiled despite the pain. We clung to each other, letting the tears and music flow over us.
After church, we enjoyed lunch at Aunt Alta’s house; Danielle and Alexa even came along and listened and laughed at my crazy, loud family.
That night, when Danielle and Alexa went to bed, Grandma and I stayed downstairs, watching “Letters to Juliet.” For those who haven’t seen it, the movie is a romantic story about two long-lost lovers who find their way back to each other. It’s a sweet tale, and despite our amusement with its predictability, Grandma and I enjoyed it, declaring it a perfect “girl’s night movie.” What I couldn’t predict, however, was the long conversation with Grandma that followed. With a vulnerability I’d never seen before, Grandma talked about love and loss; what it meant to be married to Grandpa for 53 years and what it meant for her to forge a future without him. We both shared secret trials of our lives that we had never shared with each other–because despite the fact that we share blood, she had always been Grandma and I had always been her little girl. But as we finally crawled into our beds in the wee hours of that morning, I no longer felt such a generational distance between us. Instead, I felt that in many ways our stories were the same; hers just had more chapters already written.
Monday, October 8
The day seemed to fly quickly by, since it was our last full day. That morning we found a fun coffee spot, where I enjoyed a gluten-free breakfast crepe. We later enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch by the water, walked along the pier, and even spotted dolphins! Grandma took the afternoon to visit her sister once more, while we relaxed on the sand.
The night ended with a game of SkipBo, with the exact same deck of cards I’d played with as a child. But unlike in childhood, Grandma showed no mercy and beat the rest of us every round! We chalked it up to her level of experience.
Tuesday, October 9
We got up early, backing up the SUV to head back to Georgia, just as Hurricane Michael began to blow in. The winds were already picking up, and we prayed for the area’s safety as we drove north. (Thankfully, my extended family was safe, as no major damage occured in their area.)
After we got to my house in Rome, and Danielle and Alexa headed back to their respective homes, Grandma hung back for a few more minutes. We hugged each other tightly, and she thanked me for including her in the trip. What I replied though was that I should be thanking her: not just for the condo or the use of her car or the many meals she packed. But for her honesty, her vulnerability, her example. And not just as a grandmother; but as a woman of strength, character, and dignity.
As she drove away that day, my heart was struck with the fact that maybe my childhood was over in one sense. But a new season of calling my grandmother not only Grandma but friend had only just begun.
Dedicated to my Grandpa, Richard “Hoot” Gibson.
May 17, 1942 – August 19, 2018