mary elizabeth davis

whenever my grandma heard a thump, a knock in the distant corners of the clapboard house she’d lived in for most of her life, she’d open her eyes wide revealing her cloudy, blue pupils, raise her eyebrows and listen.

she’d been blind since she was 21 but not much got past her.  much to the dismay of my 4 aunts and 2 uncles, she could easily distinguish the varying gaits of her children. nobody, and i mean not nobody, could sneak in after hours. grandma could make out the click-clack of high heels against the kitchen linoleum belonging to my fashion-forward aunt, the long, steady, slow steps of my uncle who’d lost his mind in vietnam, and my own quick, heavy-footed movement through the rooms. she could catch snatches of conversations all the way from the front porch even though she sat rocking at least 50 feet away.  my grandma, mary elizabeth davis, could hear a fly piss on cotton, my uncle, the musician, would remind me when i was mad at my own mother and wanted to call her every name under the sun out of what i thought was grandma’s earshot.

i wonder what my grandma heard on the evening she died. did she hear her children and grandchildren scurrying around her? did she hear auntie on the phone with her doctor, kicking off her heels and sighing heavily as sat on her bed? did grandma hear my recluse-like cousin calling 911, repeating the address loudly but sounding so calm, not frantic like those callers on rescue 911? there i was wanting to feel useful and get her ready to go the hospital and picking out a dress and slip and washing her up because she’d made a mess on herself.

grandma always told me to always wear clean underwear. the reason being should i happen to get in a car accident and need to go to the hospital, at least the doctors and nurses would know i was “wearing clean draws.” “this ain’t no car accident, grandma, but you are most definitely goin’ to the hospital,” i whispered to her. i wrung out washcloth after washcloth and the sound of the water reentering the aluminum basin was steady, metered, comforting to me.

i’m not sure how many of us already knew she was actually dying that night. i certainly didn’t. i just thought she was sick, something else with her heart, her diabetes maybe. i’m sure my aunt, the nurse, the perfect one, knew. the death rattle, they call it; the last sounds you make before you die as spit builds up in your throat cause you can’t swallow anymore. i heard grandma’s death rattle but i just thought she was trying to breathe, not die.

and so the ambulance arrived with its sirens wailing and they carted grandma off sans the dress and slip i’d picked out for her; a white sheet was all there was time for. we piled silently into autos, doors slammed and we followed the sirens to the hospital.  my 15-year-old self couldn’t drive so i rode with my closest cousin. all she said to me was, “you hungry?” and all i said was, “yeah.”

at her funeral, there were songs sung and prayers prayed and lots of flowers that my grandma couldn’t see. she couldn’t see the dress that my cousin bought me just for ‘the special occasion’ or the silly shoes i chose to wear. she didn’t see my pressed hair and earrings and teeny bit of lipstick i was allowed.

when she was alive, every so often my grandma would run her hands across my face, feeling my nose and my mouth, my eyes and ears, touching my budding breasts and hips, trying to get a sense of how i had ‘growed up’. i was always a bit uncomfortable when she did this because her touch felt so intimate, there was so much love in it.

today when i am in love with someone i close my eyes and run my fingers across their face and really, sometimes for the first time, see them. i wish grandma could see me now, all growed up.

–Crystal Artis

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One Response to “mary elizabeth davis”

  1. Fluiplire Says:

    A lot of of guys blog about this topic but you said some true words!!

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