Her once fluffy, dark brown hair had become silky and white as fresh snow; her once supple skin had become as thin and delicate as translucent tissue paper stretched over bony fingers; and her formerly piercing jet-black eyes could only blankly stare at her surroundings.
She knew nothing of the terror that enveloped a nation on Sept. 11, nothing of the panic that struck at the hearts of millions of U.S. citizens, nothing of the evil murderous thug named bin Laden. When my grandmother died in the nursing home on Sept. 26, death came silently, and mercifully. "Muggie," as we affectionately called her, was 94 years old.
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She lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the civil unrest of the '60s, and the terrorist attack of last month. She was the last of 12 siblings to leave this world, and as she took her final breath last week, an era came to an end. Muggie witnessed countless inventions, the rise and fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union, and the dawning of the computer age. She left us at a time when Americans discovered that the brutality of modern warfare would no longer just be "over there," but would be painfully wrought in our own cities, on our own soil. Thank God, my dear Muggie didn't know that the new enemy will often live among us, awaiting the perfect time to betray our trust as he engages in a murderous, destructive rampage.
My siblings and I spent many sweltering, but wonderful, summer days and nights in our grandparents' home in Tallahassee, Fla. Muggie was of the "old school," and I was fascinated by the crocheted doilies on the tables and sofas, the hand embroidered pillow cases and the photographs of countless "old" relatives I didn't know. Her house always smelled of roasting beef, stewing mustard greens and brewing tea. When diluted, the pitcher of warm
tea would be left one-quarter of the way empty so that massive amounts of sugar could be poured in. I remember stirring and stirring and stirring, watching the cloudy liquid gradually turn a caramel brown as the sugar finally dissolved. The finished product was so sweet you could almost imagine mushy rock candy crystals forming on the sides of the large squares of ice that filled the colored glasses we drank from.
Muggie grew up in South Georgia, and every summer she would take us to the "old home place" to visit her one surviving brother and several sisters. I remember happy times chasing the chickens and frantically running from the angry rooster; of peering in the dusty silo at what seemed like millions of ears of dried corn; of gleefully riding on the back of old Great Uncle Wilsey's red tractor; of the maddening feeling of dried Georgia red clay under my fingernails and up my nose; and of struggling to cuddle the cute, but wild, kittens that hung around the house, only to have my arms and hands severely scratched – yet again. I remember the visits with Great Aunt Melissa and the delight of savoring every bite of her deliciously sweet homemade divinity as we sat in her parlor and visited with kind, but curious, great aunts and distant cousins.
Back at Muggie's house, I looked forward to the visits with my dad's only brother, Uncle Bryan Lee. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a humorous story to tell about his and my father's childhood. I treasured these visits
with my uncle – he was the bridge between the loving, but strict, demeanor of my grandparents and my own carefree, happy childhood dreams. His stories and rascal-like humor made my grandparents seem more human. And although it was evident he did not embrace all of their formal ways and rules, he always – always – treated them with respect. It was Uncle Bryan Lee that kept a watchful eye on my Muggie in the 30 years she spent as a widow. It was this fun-loving uncle of mine and his wife, Aunt Sally, that nurtured and lovingly cared for my precious grandmother when her body and mind began to betray her with age.
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My most vivid childhood memories of time spent with Granddaddy Redd and Muggie were the nightly Bible readings and lengthy prayers spent on our knees in the "front room." These sessions before bed were both welcomed and dreaded rituals for squirming children. My grandfather would reverently, yet emotionally, lead these sessions of thanksgiving and petition to a God that was very real. Granddaddy and Muggie were often moved to tears, their authoritative manner temporarily shed as they openly bared their hearts before God and the grandchildren that knelt around them. As a very young child, I sometimes drifted in and out of sleep as they earnestly prayed for old folks I didn't know. But sometimes I would cry with them, deeply moved both by their compassion for others, and by their undying faith in God and His mercy even while they prayed for suffering they could not understand.
It is this faith that I now cling to. When I think of the injustice and devastation and human suffering levied on thousands of innocent civilians on Sept. 11; when I look into the eyes of my own children and fear for
their future; when I witness how our nation was severely crippled by unspeakable evil; I will return in my mind's eye to the "front room" of my grandparents and remember their absolute trust in the God of all creation. I will feel free to weep before Him and mourn the losses and suffering I do not understand. And just as Granddaddy and Muggie wiped their tears and rose to their feet with renewed strength at the end of their prayers, I will do the same.
As I left Muggie's freshly dug grave and my grandfather's well settled one Friday afternoon, I quietly thanked them for their timeless lessons of faith and triumph.