catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 18 :: 2006.10.06 — 2006.10.20


Always remember, I love you

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
God Bless Mommy and Daddy
and Candy and Bill
and Brooke and Chet
and Baby Jim
and Tiny Tom
and Little Amanda
and all my friends

Every night, before I went to bed, my grandfather and I said this prayer.  Never mind that Candy was my mother.  Mommy and Daddy were my grandparents.  When we started our prayer ritual, it ended with Baby Jim and all my friends.  Two more cousins would be born before he died.  And two more after.  Two great-grand children would come before grandma died.  And one, so far, after.

I called him Dad from the very beginning.  My mother was a single parent, we lived with my grandparents until I was five years old.  My uncle was a teenager.  Everyone in my house called my grandfather Dad, and I had no one else to christen with that name.  I didn’t start calling my grandmother Mom until much later.  We were living in Texas, but I was spending my summers in Illinois with them.  I was used to calling out “MOM!” at the top of my lungs.  Eventually, she just took to responding to it.  For years I just had two moms, one dad, and two homes.  I was their fifth child. 

I remember being cuddled up in his lap watching The Dukes of Hazard, The Incredible Hulk, and Hee Haw.  My mother tells me I had the same special relationship with my grandfather as she had with hers.  It was one of those child-like needs, to be close to him.  If I couldn’t sit on his lap, I was miserable.  Not that I was ever denied that privilege.  He needed me on his lap as much as I needed to be there.

I remember running back into their bedroom together every time Superman or Superman II or Superman III was scheduled on HBO, no matter how many times in the day.  My grandma and I, sprawled on the bed, enchanted by the films.  It was our own little ritual, and when she was drawn away from me to do housework or answer the telephone, I became anxious until she returned, and then I was safe again.

I remember his arms around me, holding my hands in place, gripping the golf club.  Pulling back.  Keep your right arm straight.  Eye on the ball and follow through. And as the ball soared through the air, then bounced toward the green, he always encouraged it.  Get up there.  Get.  Go on.  Get up there.  Or when you thought you did everything right, and you heard the club make contact with the ball, the crisp thwack of metal against synthetic fiber rushing through grass, and you look up only to see your ball sailing away far to the right or left of the green.  It went where you were aimin’! was always his wry reply.

I remember her arms around me, teaching me how to swing dance like she did in her glory days.  Step left, then right then back.  And left… right… back. Aw, that’s a good girl…  And she would tell me stories about dances and friends.  Her first love.  How she and my grandfather met.  She was at a dance at the VFW Hall and he came up to her.  He said, “Do you want to dance, or don’t you know how?”  Of course she danced.  She didn’t like him.  He wrote her tons of letters while he was away in the Army Air Corps, and her mother was the one who waited impatiently for them, and forced her into an acquaintance.  She let me read the letters once.  I could tell there was something more there than she let on. 

I remember sitting next to him in church.  All of the congregants, his friends, fawning over me.  You look so pretty today.  When did you get into town?  Are you here for the summer?  Singing hymns at the top of my lungs.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Him above, the Heavenly Host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  He was a very respected elder and faithful believer.  He taught me to love Jesus before I understood who Jesus was.  And when I became a believer, he was the one I turned to for help, advice, and understanding.

She’s screaming at the swim teacher.  Then she’s climbing the fence. I can’t see this, of course, because I’m drowning.  We were taking turns, the other kids and I, letting go of the side of the pool while our teacher had one of the other kids in the deep end.  My grandmother saw me go under; realized I wasn’t coming up.  She grabbed me, took me home; said I would learn to swim the next year.

Brooke and I are obsessed with New Kids on the Block.  We’re watching some 4th of July special at Disney World.  They’re singing.  "Hanging Tough".  My grandfather singing along, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh.  Hangin’ tough!”  Brooke and I collapsing into giggles.

I saw my first horror movie with my grandparents.  My uncle was going over to a friends house to watch Friday the 13th on cable.  I desperately wanted to go.  My mother wouldn’t let me.  She had to work the night shift.  My grandmother tucked me under a handmade afghan on the couch.  If you get scared, just pull the afghan over your head.  You can still watch through the holes.  I was 5 years old.  When I was 15, my grandfather would be the only one to watch Child’s Play with me.  For years, we would it quote the movie to each other and laugh.

Every year we watched The Wizard of Oz together, my grandma and I.  Or at least, I thought we did.  According to her, I watched it while she walked through the living room occasionally, commenting on it.  She named the members of my family after the characters.  My mother was Glenda the Good Witch.  My grandfather was the Wizard.  Their schnauzer was Toto.  And, of course, I was Dorothy.  She deemed herself the Wicked Witch of the West.  She then changed my name.  I would forever be called, by her and the rest of my family, Rachel Sue Dorothy Ann Hawley.  Sue was my real middle name.  Ann was the name that should have been my middle name.

My grandfather is teaching me how to drive a golf cart.  I’m not allowed to drive it by myself until I’m 12, but with him I can practice, learn.  There’s a sharp turn where the path takes up again from the road.  The beginning of the path is a short bridge, about a foot high, over a small stream of water that drains into the lake.  This is a sharp turn, now.  Go slow.  Turn hard right.  Harder.  Straighten up.  Straighten UP!  As the cart flies off the bridge, he is screaming at me.  He has never raised his voice to me and I am terrified.  I burst into tears.  He bursts into laughter.

I hated her for making my mother cry.  She didn’t need the alcohol for a catalyst.  She was just plain mean.  The alcohol just gave her an excuse.  Not that she’d ever admit to it.

I was ashamed of him for his bigotry.  We were pulling out of the Country Club where they lived, dressed and headed for church.  He spied a member standing in the parking lot outside the Pro Shop; standing with a black man.  He slowed down and gawked.  Cursed.  Stopped and started, stared, the rest of the way to the exit.  He was appalled.  I wanted to cry.

She was the first person to ever break my trust.  I am on my first bicycle, the training wheels newly removed.  She swears she will hold on.  I’m riding in circles in her large driveway.  Suddenly I pass her and realize she has let go.  She is laughing and yelling “You did it!  You did it!  You’re riding alone.”  I immediately crash to the ground in tears.

We’re out on the porch swing, which is located in the middle of the yard, rather than on the porch.  It’s just my grandma and me.  It always is.  It’s a beautiful summer night.  We’re rocking and singing our song:

Oh look at the moon
It’s shining up there
Oh mother it looks like a lamp in the air
Last week it was small
And shaped like a bowl
But now it’s grown big-ger
And shaped like an O

(Or on half-moon nights, we reversed the order of the last for lines)

We were living in Kingwood, Texas and I was at my babysitter’s apartment.  I was actually outside, playing with friends.  The apartment manager was walking our way, with two elderly people next to her.  They called to me and I looked up, stunned.  I did a double take.  I didn’t know they were coming.  I ran to them and embraced them, and their gentle voices, hers marred with years of smoking; oh honey, his deep and gruff and old; There’s my Rachy Baby.  The manager then let us into my apartment.  When my mother came home, she was furious.  They had come a day early, and she wasn’t ready for them.  I, on the other hand, was ecstatic.

My grandfather’s best friend was the reverend Richard Wallarab.  He called me “The Rach”.  I learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed with my grandfather and recited them for Wallarab and his wife in my grandparent’s living room.  At my grandfather’s funeral, it was Wallarab who held me on the porch swing and reassured me that my grandfather was in Heaven, in God’s grace, at peace.

My Uncle Charlie always brought her a Whitman’s Sampler.  He wasn’t my real uncle, just a friend of the family.  He always brought her the box of candy, and she hid it from the rest of the family.  It was Christmas, and she was laying on the couch in the “Red Room”(so deemed because of the color of the carpeting) watching television.  I ran in to tell her something, and noticed she had something in her mouth.  I could smell the chocolate.  Caught, she showed me the candy and made me promise never to tell a soul.  From that point on, every holiday, I got one piece of her Whitman’s Sampler, the price of my silence. 

For some reason, he got it in his head to take down the dock on their edge of the lake.  It was their own personal property, and he deemed it a nuisance.  He removed all of the boards, piece by piece, but his arthritis made it impossible for him to struggle with the stakes that were anchored in the bottom of the filthy algae-infested lake.  He enlisted my help.  I went out on the row boat while he held onto it by a rope.  I rowed between the stakes and attempted to remove them, but they were buried too deep.  “You need to get some leverage” he said.  “Stand up in the boat to pull them out. Be careful.”  Ever the obedient granddaughter, I did as instructed.  Seeing my struggle, and engrossed in the moment, he decided to help me by pulling the boat by the rope.  This maneuver caused me to lose balance, fall flat on my back into the boat, and the boat to dump far enough into the lake to fill the boat with nasty lake water, which I was now laying in.  As disgusting as the experience was, it was worth it to see the look of horror and regret on his face.  And for once, I could laugh at him.

My grandmother was a great lover of music, and she loved to serenade me with songs.  Her voice was by no means fantastic or lyrical, but when she sang these songs to me, I felt like the most special person in the world.  “I love you.  A bushel and a peck.  A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.”  And then, the line, “and I’m talking in my sleep about you”.  When we lived far apart, and we talked on the phone, she would sing that to me and then tell me she’d say “I’ll be seeing you in my dreams.”

I was (and still am) notorious for my inability to get out of bed in the mornings.  This was a constant struggle between my mother and I, whose method for motivation was to scream and threaten.  My grandmother took a different approach.  When she would wake me up in the mornings, she would start by making my favorite breakfast, French toast.  Then, the smell of the egg-fried bread wafting through the house, she would come into my room and scratch my back, oh so gently.  “Rachel.  It’s time to wake up, honey.”  I would come to, completely willing to face the day.  She would then sing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma! and I would join in with her in my scratchy tired voice.

There was another song she used to sing to me.  For a long time, I forgot it, as did she.  I looked it up recently.  It’s called Always Remember by Jack Greene.   I can’t remember how the tune goes at all.  All I remember, what haunts me in my dreams, is the refrain, which my grandmother always remembered, even after the tune had long faded from our memories.  Every night I was with her before I went to bed, and every time we talked on the phone just before we hung up, she would always say those words to me.  “Always remember, I love you.”  And as I grew older, up until I was 28 years old, that same week she passed away, she would say, “What are you supposed to always remember?”

"That you love me?"

"That’s right.  I love you."

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