By Name

How do you begin to tell a story you wish hadn’t ended?

I suppose you start at the beginning.

A green Honda Accord was the vehicle that drove me from my college town to her home a few hours away.  I had been lovingly alerted that Grandma had a way with words, her euphemisms could fill a book.  That prediction has been realized as memories of loving her fill pages of my journal.

The day we met, as the college girlfriend of her eldest grandson, I had painstakingly removed the blue glitter polish from my nails, wanting to make a good impression on the family.  I find myself wishing we would have met with my sparkly nails reaching to shake her hand as she quickly pulled me into a warm embrace, our favorite color blue being something we soon discovered held in common.

This fine lady welcomed me into her heart and family that day, with southern charm and sweet tea, her easy smile, warm hugs, and laughter filling me with love.  I married that eldest grandson, and a few years later we were expecting her first great grandchild.  Residing in Minnesota, many miles from her Oklahoma address, we were able to make a trip a few months before our due date.  Grandma was so excited to see us, and she was enthusiastic about the chosen names for the baby- either Darbi or Grant.  She repeatedly told us how she loved the names!

Though none of us knew at that moment, in less than two years, she would have a great grandchild representing each choice.  One summer, 2-year-old Grant, 3-year-old Darbi, and I visited for a week while I took a graduate class at Oklahoma State University.  Grandma generously babysat her great-grandchildren, and we visited and caught up on life in the evenings.  She spoke of her friends and lessons in Sunday school, Blue Willow dishware, and any other topic that arose.  I had always lived so far away from my grandparents, and it was a precious time for me.

Life continued and our family gained another son and four years later, we welcomed a baby girl.  We visited as we were able, though never as often as we would have liked.  Grandma always asked about my family.  She knew my siblings by name, and was especially curious about my youngest brother, whom she had met several times.

At one point, I mentioned that he was dating a local television reporter.  Grandma wanted to know her name- it was important that she check her out; and the next time we came over, that same Tracy was reporting the news on Grandma’s television!

Several years passed.  In August of 2017, Grandma celebrated her birthday, and I believe her hairdresser snapped the photo that easily became my favorite.  Perfectly coiffed hair, a bit of lipstick and draped in a filmy scarf, Grandma looked regal.  Her crystal blue eyes gazed out from the digital likeness as if the rendering were living, not merely a two-dimensional image of the woman I loved residing hundreds of miles away.

My artistic brother had recently discovered portraiture in his MFA program.  I sent him that photograph and commissioned him to paint a portrait of Grandma as I wanted a unique gift.

In admiration of an oil painting of her younger self that hung in the entry of her home and then in her apartment, I felt it captured the vitality of her personality.  This particular photograph seemed to radiate the essence of Kathryn and her beautiful blue eyes just as well.

Grandma and I had shared several conversations about those same blue eyes and all the unwanted attention she felt she received because of them.  I forever told her that I loved them anyway because she passed them on to her daughter, who then bequeathed them to her son.  Because of Kathryn’s vibrant blue eyes, I get to look into them every day when I look at my husband.  She would just shake her head at me, unconvinced, and then laugh when I would remind her that they were our favorite color-BLUE, so they couldn’t be that bad!

Many moves later, my family was residing in yet another state and Grandma’s address had changed several times from her beloved home to an assisted living facility in Tulsa. I would not entrust the gift to the post office nor UPS. I wanted to deliver it in person.

In June of 2019, we were able to make our road trip to visit Grandma.  Even with cards sent and visits made, each opportunity to see her in person was prized.  Though dementia and Alzheimer’s were her twin companions, they could not diminish our love for this fine lady.  Upon entering her room with 3 of our 4 children, Grandma reached to hug each one and promptly asked where the other one was.  She didn’t remember her name, but she knew that Darbi was missing.  That meant so much to my older daughter when we relayed the message to her at college.

We had a lovely visit, and Grandma told us all about life in her new quarters.  Eventually we presented her with the painting and conversation moved to the portrait that used to hang in her entry.  Grandma spoke at length about oil paintings.  Though some details in earlier topics of conversations had been hazily conveyed, she now spoke with an eloquence and depth of knowledge that was crystal clear.  I had not realized her affinity of art previously, and I wished Darbi had been there to join in the conversation as she was adept in the field of art history.

Grandma finally mentioned the beautiful oil in the hallway, just down from her room.  Had we seen it?  She just loved it.  She knew Him, but she just couldn’t remember His name.

My nine-year old daughter and I said that we had noticed some lovely artwork in the building as we had made our way through the turns and nurses’ stations to reach her room.  I wondered at the name of the artist that had captured her attention.  Based on our conversation, I was curious to discover if we would recognize the work or the artist of the painting.  Was it one of the masters?

Our visit came to a close, and we were so glad for our time together.  My youngest daughter and I were walking side by side.  We stopped at the massive painting, just down the hall from Grandma’s room.  Her words were echoing in our minds, her soft lilting voice, spoken with such resolve, “I just love it.  I know Him, but I don’t remember His name.”

It was a painting of Jesus.

She loved Him. She knew Him.  She just couldn’t remember His name.

But He forever knew hers.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

“… I can never forget you!  I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Isaiah 49:16

Author’s Note: Written in memory of a much beloved grandmother, Kathryn Snead, who passed away May of 2020. Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord. Through your mercy, may her soul and those of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Copyright 2020 Bonnie Shaw

Bonnie Shaw is wife to Chris, mother of four perpetually hungry offspring, and in continual anticipation of summer and hot weather. An educator by degree and lifelong learner by habit, she consumes stacks of books, inhabiting both her imagination and contemplation as she seeks connection with truth, ideas, and the laughter of friends traveling the same road. In relentless pursuit of more perfectly trusting in the Lord’s divine mercy, she is so very thankful for His grace and the peace and shelter of His presence as well as the example of others who love Him.