Mind Your Manners
Thursday, November 25, 1971
It's time for dinner. Thanksgiving dinner.
My maternal great-grandmother--'Granny'--is having my mother and us kids over for the traditional holiday feast. One thing is different this year. Her husband Al is in the Wadsworth Hospital over at the Veteran's Home in West Los Angeles, slowly dying of cancer. He is too ill to come home for his last family meal.
I am ten and have only a vague idea of what is going on with Granny. She's moving in slow motion, mechanically, preoccupied with her thoughts and feelings, sharing little, keeping much to herself.
Al is her second husband. Her first husband Ky died suddenly after only a few short years of marriage; she had found him in bed one afternoon, gone from an undetected heart condition. Since then, she'd suffered many other losses and had developed the stoicism of those who outlive most of their family and peers. As she would tell her sister at the funeral that came a little later, just days before Christmas, she'd cried all her tears long ago. She was done with grief.
The table is set. Turkey, mashed potatoes, granny gravy, biscuits, green beans, and cranberries, with pumpkin pie on the counter. We all sit down quietly. Normally, we children are fidgety at the table, poking, kicking and mugging, but we can sense that something is wrong. No one has told us yet that Al isn't coming home.
We sit for a moment in silence, waiting for Granny to give us the signal to dig in. But instead of the usual "come and get it; mind your reach" Granny bows her head and begins to say grace. This is a bit of a stunner, as no one has ever done that at our table (you may find that bit of information a stunner too. What can I say? We aren't the typical American family.)
I don't remember the words, but the delivery is slow and reverent. Then about halfway through she stops with the tiniest flinch. Is she about to cry? No; instead, she slowly lifts her head and looks to her left and above for a long moment. Then just as slowly she turns her gaze back to her plate and continues grace without missing a beat. When she finishes, we begin. The dinner is one of the best I've ever had.
Later, much later, Mother tells me why Granny stopped and looked to the left. According to Granny, her grandmother, Mary Ann Williams Jenkins, had gently put her hand on Granny's shoulder during grace and told her that everything was going to be all right very soon (Granny was very close to her grandmother). As it was told to me, Mary Ann apparently looked as real as life to Granny. She was even still wearing her old Welsh apron. No one else saw or heard a thing.
I think of that dinner as being quite special. How many can say they had Thanksgiving dinner with their great, great, great grandmother standing by?
+ - + - +
So, did we have an unexpected visitor drop in for dinner? Like I said, I didn't sense a thing; no one save for Granny had any impression that something odd was going on.
Given the stress my Granny was going through, with her husband dying in the hospital, it's easy to believe that she was simply seeing and hearing things. It's also not surprising that she saw someone who, in life, embodied stability and comfort.
But to this day I am surprised that my Granny didn't act as though she'd seen a ghost. No look of consternation, puzzlement, fear, excitement, or awe. No shouting or gasping. She didn't look around to see if we saw her too. No, she kept very, very cool about the whole thing. In fact, she acted exactly like someone who merely paused to let another speak.
Then again, perhaps it's not all that surprising. My Granny had excellent table manners. She learned them from her grandmother.
Mary Evans 1905 - 1989
See you around.