Today marks one year since my grandmother passed away.
Although she lived a fulfilling and celebrated life, anniversaries of this sort aren’t the kind people generally count down to. Instead, the memories of a life lost sneak up on you when you least expect it.
For me, it happened while I was enjoying a bean burrito kids’ meal at Taco Bell. Around bite three or four, an elderly couple took up residence in the table for two next to mine.
She was wearing a plaid short-sleeved dress shirt and navy polyester pants. Her hair was as white as you can imagine, but neatly curled and hair-sprayed into place around her aging face. Behind her glasses were eyes that revealed memories of at least 65 blessed years. Despite the sagging cheekbones and wrinkles, she was beautiful.
I don’t remember what color shirt he was wearing, but how could I forget his bright turquoise-green pants. Being about five inches too short for his long legs, they revealed tan socks and polished, dark brown loafer-shoes. His hair was recently trimmed, and his arms were much darker than hers, revealing possibly 65 years of hard work out in the sun. He portrayed a desirable mixture of strong and gentle.
I casually watched them throughout my entire bean burrito kids’ meal.
“I usually try to re-roll mine,” she explained to him as she carefully opened her soft taco and poured some mild taco sauce on it. She took a fork and moved the tortilla’s contents around to make for an even and easy “re-roll.”
My eyes left their table for a while, but returned when I heard her say, “You didn’t hear me. I said to re-roll it.”
Slowly, I glanced at his soft taco. In the paper wrapper was a messy mixture of cheese, taco meat, beans and taco sauce. The tortilla’s contents were spilling out, and in what seemed an effort to make the taco edible, the older man had poured a packet of mild taco sauce packet haphazardly over the outside of the taco.
“It was all stuck together,” he told her as he methodically wrapped the taco in the paper to avoid a spill on his turquoise pants.
I guess I am not as coy at spying on people as I thought, because the older lady looked up directly at me. As our eyes met, she gave me the slightest shake of a head as if to say, “He should have listened to me.” It was not an angry or annoyed look. I could tell because she had a slight smile in both her mouth and her eyes. It was one of endearment and humor towards this man, whom had probably not changed since the first day the two met.
Feeling like an intruder, I put an innocent “oh-I-wasn’t-even-paying-attention” smile on my face and stared at the tray in front of me.
This is when I began to think of the loss of my grandmother and my still-living grandfather.
Like this couple in Taco Bell, they too, had life’s journey written all over their skin.
Sunspots, laugh lines, and tiny bruises all mixed with an unmatched softness described my grandmother’s skin. Her light hair was always neatly combed and sprayed in place. I can even see her pink and blue bottle of Suave hair-spray set out on the bathroom counter.
She, too, was methodical in the way that she ate her dinner. In the last few months, when walking was hard for her, she used a tray on her lap to balance her plate while she sat in her blue recliner. The chair was so big compared to her frail body.
The dark arms of my grandfather would place the tray there. He had done all the work to prepare the meal, making sure it was exactly how she liked.
Since my grandfather is hard of hearing, it was sometimes difficult for him to hear her if she asked him for something else. She’d raise her feeble voice as loud as it could go, which was only slightly above a whisper, but would end up giving me that same loving but amused look that the elderly woman in Taco Bell gave me.
There is no way to count the number of conversations that my grandmother and grandfather shared over their meals together. I wonder if a reflective college student ever spied on them while they were at a fast-food restaurant. And I wonder if my grandmother ever gave that reflective college student a gentle look of love and loyalty, because I know that there was no shortage of those two things in their marriage.
I miss my grandmother dearly. She was wise, compassionate and beautiful both on the inside and the outside – all characteristics that I can only strive to reflect in my life.
Even though it has now been one year since she entered paradise, it seems like I see her more than I did when she was alive.