You have to recognize when you’ve been lucky.
I feel very fortunate and, yes, blessed to have made it to this point in my life and still be able to enjoy the company of my grandmother. Abbeville’s Edith Campbell McElrath, my mom’s mom, a saint walking among us here on earth, will turn 97 on Monday.
We don’t always get so lucky. I never knew either of my grandfathers, both of whom passed well before I was born. My Grandma Trainor, my dad’s mom, was a warm, loving woman with a deep soul who spoiled me endlessly when I was a child. But she’s been gone now since I was in the fourth grade, though she lives on in fragmented scenes in my mind, quietly whistling to herself as she fixes my lunch in her little kitchen.
But with Grandma Mac, as she is affectionately known, I don’t have to reach into the recesses of my memory to conjure a look at her sparkling eyes, or to hear her unmistakable, sudden laugh. Through the confluence of several factors (exceptionally clean living, good genes and, as I’m sure she would tell you, God’s grace) she’s still here with me. Like all of us, she has some days that are better than others, but I’m sure she’d be the first to tell you the good ones usually win out.
I’m perhaps most grateful when I get to see my 8-year-old daughter Charley spending time with Grandma Mac. It makes for quite the picture, seeing Charley grab a book or her Kindle and snuggle in beside her great-grandmother to read. There’s something at once powerful and touching in seeing two people, separated by nearly 90 years in age, share such a bond. It’s the world making another turn, encapsulated in a single moment.
On the occasion of her 97th birthday, I’ve paused to reflect on what I’ve learned, and what I’m still trying to learn, from my grandmother.
Some of the lessons she shared were practical in nature. For example, in my early teens, well before I was old enough to go for my license, I learned to drive a car by piloting her massive boat of a sedan through the big field beside her house in the Abbe-ville countryside. I guess she figured I’d have a hard time crashing into anything in a grassy meadow.
When she thought I had sufficiently mastered the ability to maneuver in an open field without flipping the car, she would occasionally allow me to drive to the stop sign at the end of her (exceptionally straight) rural road. When we’d get to the stop sign, we’d switch seats and she would get behind the wheel before turning out into the “big” road (the Mount Carmel highway, itself the very definition of a country road, in retrospect).
But many of Grandma Mac’s lessons were, and remain, less explicit. They weren’t moments where she was actively “teaching” you things, but rather providing an example through the way in which she lives her life.
Take bravery, for instance. My grandma is incredibly brave. Her husband, Jack, fought in World War II. Like so many in her generation, she spent untold days and nights without him, wondering when, and if, he would return from that raging conflict overseas. Thankfully he did return safely from war, but some years later, in 1960, he died suddenly, leaving grandma with a young daughter and teenage son.
Hard times, no doubt. Really hard times. But she picked herself up and moved forward. Raised her two children the right way. Saw them through college. Worked at a shirt plant. Worked at the Department of Social Services. (She’s never been afraid of work. She worked at the Piedmont Agency on Aging for 20 years after she “retired.”)
It couldn’t have been easy, being on her own, but she never allowed herself to become a victim of circumstance. In times of adversity, she lived the right way, and she made it through.
And now she sits and reads with my daughter, two generations separated by nearly a century, with a bond that transcends time. And in those moments, I know how lucky I am.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.