My Grandmother was 45 when I was born, and the Matriarch of our family. Gram was born in 1917. I spent many weekdays and weekends with her as a toddler and young girl, then weekends when I started school. She and my Grandfather drove from Texas to Alaska to make a better life for the family, and arrived in Alaska before it was even a State. Many wonderful memories of Gram cooking for us over a huge pot of soup. I was fascinated that she seemed to change her hair color whenever it struck her fancy. She loved color – which was so evident in her beautiful yard. Eventually, during my junior high year, my immediate family transferred out of Alaska for a few years that was job related, but I returned shortly after graduation. I lived with my Gram at 19 for some time; got married; had children that my Gram helped me raise. Oh how she loved her great-grandchildren! My Gram taught me how to plant a vegetable garden when I was 19, and care for the flower beds; before I knew it, Gram and I were on our knees weeding and planting and happier than we could have imagined. Gram taught me how to love and care for the earth. Yes, in Alaska! We couldn’t wait to get outside when the snow melted and start those seeds and uncover the perennials every year; and again putting everything to bed before the first frost.

My Gram and I could talk about anything when we gardened, and even when we weren’t. I remember my first year living with her – I decorated the Christmas tree, and Gram was making soup. We both thought about that little flask of wild turkey my Grandfather had (he had passed away many years before and she had saved it). We took a couple of sips together.  I’ve never forgotten that first Christmas back with her, and watching those working hands she had that were becoming gnarled, but always with fresh polish on them. We played skipbo and uno everyday until Gram couldn’t differentiate the card color anymore. And always, she was there for me and my children whenever we needed anything. Gram had so much wisdom and so much love for us!

Many years went by as I bought a house, then another – always within 5 minutes from my Gram’s house. First myself, and then my children helped Gram with cleaning, weeding, shoveling snow, taking out her trash – whatever we could do to help her – and she and I kept gardening and kept talking. There came a time that she couldn’t get up from her knees from the earth, so I got her a gardening stool so she could sit and weed and prune and plant at an easier level. My Grandmother and I made a promise to each other when I was 19; she asked me to promise that I would always plant her vegetable garden and take care of her flower beds, and I made her promise that she would never die. She said that wasn’t a promise she could keep. So instead, I made her promise that she would never die before my last child was 16. Both of us kept that promise to each other.

I kept weeding and planting every year as Gram had to sit in a chair and watch; but kept watching and praying over my children through the years. Many years later me and my daughter moved back in with my Gram when we all needed help from each other. My daughter and I helped Gram to bed, cooked for her, laughed with her, sang with her, put ben-gay on her knees when arthritis became painful. Gram never complained about anything or anyone. Everyone that met her loved her; she had a full life of friends, bingo (man how she loved bingo), bright clothing, and bling rings and fresh nail polish!

I kept my promise to my Grandmother and one year more; Gram kept her promise – she passed away a few months after my youngest child turned 16. Gram was 93 years old. So many people came to Gram’s home to pay their respects. As so many friends and family sat there telling their favorite stories of how my Grandmother touched their lives, I brought around a tray of shot glasses with wild turkey; at first no one quite understood why – then I told my story – the story of my first Christmas back with just me and my Gram when I was 19 and how she and I sipped from that flask and the promise that she and I made each other and both kept. Not a dry eye in the room. It’s been 5 years since my Gram has been gone, and I miss her every day. I know she looks down and still watches over me and my children. I miss her so much, and I pray for her every night.

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