Being Grandma by Cynthia Yancey

Image by Alex Lau

The old lady Sophie had become was more than a fool for kids. It was in the end that she first began to see how her magnetic attraction toward babies, especially her babies, was affected by her terribly troubled childhood. So much more than a puppy phenomenon, she saw past their perfect exteriors deep down to their very vulnerable souls. Being Grandma was the first thing at which Sophie Snow had ever been naturally brilliant. She seemed to understand the importance of being a doting grandmother more with each grandchild.

When her youngest grandson was born, she was there at his house waiting to hold him on his first night of life. She spent that night there at Jordan and Anastasia’s house. When she awoke at 3 a.m., it was not for his mother that she tiptoed into the bedroom to see if she could help. It was not even so much for little Gordy as she once would have thought. Old Sophie had finally come to know at some level how much nurturing she had missed as a tiny girl herself. She was finally figuring how to make amends to herself for some of those losses. When she found her newborn grandson awake in his bed at 3 a.m., his new young mother looking like a deer in the headlights, Sophie scooped up that little boy, wrapped him in his blankets and took him downstairs to settle into a rocking chair by the blinking lights that lined the living room. She sang and cooed and fed that little boy to both of their hearts’ content and began to create the indelible bond that exists between grandmother and grandson; at the same time, she was beginning a brand-new relationship with the lost little girl within herself.

Aging Sophie had also come to feel the importance of so many of the people in her life who had filled in for that sweet, supersad mother of hers. As Sophie stroked Gordy’s head when he stirred in his sleep, having a bad dream perhaps, she thought of her own grandmother stroking her little head. She knew she would take every inconsistency from his life if she could. She would rush to scoop him up every time he fell. She would be the rock of support for him she missed so sorely as a little girl herself. If she could.

When little Gordy grew past his newborn self and became quite the colicky babe, old Sophie didn’t let up. She would go retrieve this baby boy from his parents’ house and bring him to her home up on the hill. She developed a routine of bringing him upstairs to her quite comfortable bed, where she would prop him up on a big soft pillow and watch a smile transform his face as they began to make clear eye contact. With an enthusiastic lilt to her voice, she would say to him, “What’s up, little boy?”

And then, knowing what happens when kids keep secrets, even though this little boy was way too young to have any secrets, she would say to him, “I haven’t seen you for two whole days, young man. Tell me, what has been going on?” 

And because she so wanted this relationship to be a lifelong affair, one that he would be safe in forevermore, she would say to him, “I want to hear all your secrets. You can tell me everything. I will always believe you.”

It surprised Sophie honestly to hear the song in her voice, the energetic sincerity behind her words, yet they seemed to entice the little fellow to begin to make his own sounds to converse with her. As he crooned all his coos and goos, Sophie would lapse into his speech that she might be better understood. She imitated all the very precious utterances coming from his throat and sang his assertions back to little Gordy in these first efforts to communicate.

Back and forth to each other they went. Then in unison they crowed their happy noises, and because it was new for them both, this new language, this new union, they did so to the point they both nearly cackled. These common sounds coming from a common place within. Gordy, in all his unfettered enthusiasm, would get looks on his face as if he were thrilled with this moment of his life. His little legs would pull up, then kick back out. His whole body would stretch as if, in some ancestral space of this little boy’s being, he was thinking, Gosh, this lady is crazy about me, just like she wishes someone had been about her when she was little. How sweet to have a grandmother’s full attention.

A few months later, Sophie eagerly accepted an offer to accompany Jordan, Anastasia, Gordy, and Sophie’s ex-husband, Joseph, to a South Carolina island for a winter vacation. She was to be head babysitter while the others treasure-hunted the beaches. The baby was cutting teeth, but she had all sorts of medicinal, palliative remedies for his little swollen gums. She treated him, fed him, and got him off to sleep like no one else could. Then little Gordy would wake up ready to play with his old grandma. They would crawl and babble to each other, laugh and dance, and discover his world together. 

One night when his parents and grandpa were late getting home, after a series of texts and failed attempts to order food to be brought to their condominium, she grabbed little Gordy and walked with him through the darkened streets to the nearest restaurant before closing time to get their supper. Gordy had gotten fat and heavy in recent months. She asked the hostess of the restaurant if someone could deliver the food because she didn’t know how she would manage to carry it all back with Gordy in her arms. The hostess, however, said, “No, that would have to be arranged online,” which Sophie had already attempted unsuccessfully numerous times.

They offered her a drink while waiting, but instead Sophie decided to run, just before closing time, to the Piggly Wiggly next door to grab a bottle of wine to go with their dinner. As she came out of the store with Gordy still in the grocery cart, she realized how much easier it would be to transport everything with the cart. She wondered if permission would be easier to get from the checkout girls today or forgiveness the following day and decided on the latter. As she picked up the food, she told the hostess of the restaurant not to worry about them, that she had found a way to transport it back home. 

Off she and Gordy went in the grocery cart across a very bumpy parking lot to the darkened street. She was going as fast as she could, almost as if she were running from someone trying to catch them at their crime. When she realized little Gordy had his head in her chest and that she might be frightening him, she stopped to check. When she asked if he was all right, the little fellow raised his face and beamed his biggest smile at her. He was apparently having the time of his life. Old Sophie giggled as they continued to bump their way down the dark sidewalk and said, “Young man, you and Grandma are going to have a lot of adventures.” Back at the condo, she pushed the grocery cart right into the elevator and up to their apartment where they settled back in and put the food out on the table for the family’s dinner.

Before leaving Gordy the next day and heading back home, she went with him for a little picnic on the beach and was amazed again at the beauty of his innocence. Nine-month-old Gordy sat on a blanket with his grandma on the windy winter shore. His hunger seemed real; last night’s fish and chips held his attention much longer than usual. His little bear cap came down to his eyes, glistening contentment. And then Gordy lifted his greasy, fat little fingers and face to Sophie’s and between morsels touched his open mouth to hers. His eyes were the tenderest she recalled. She wished to freeze-frame this moment in her memory for the rest of her days to remind her of a time when intrinsic innocence remained unravaged.

Who had been there, paying attention, for Sophie’s tiny girl to kiss? How best to encourage this child to be whole and secure? Who better than a grandma to fathom these moments? 

Photo by Sarah Yancey

Cynthia Yancey was an English major before she became a mother then a medical doctor. Now after working for over 30 years in the trenches of public health, from the Himalayas to the Andes to her downtown clinic in Asheville, NC, she is writing the stories of her life.

As to awards, she has received the Suzanne S. Turner Unsung Heroine Award in 2011, an award for public service. She has written a children’s picture book entitled Zak and Niki: A First Look at Rising above Racism, published by Grateful Steps in 2015. She is currently studying with Laura Hope-Gill in the Lenoir-Rhyne Masters of Writing Program in Asheville, NC. Her work has been published in Academy of the Heart and Mind, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Amethyst Review, Atherton Review, Broad River Review, Cobalt Review, Entropy, Evening Street Review, The MacGuffin, Streetlight Magazine, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and The Virginia Normal.

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