Thursday, August 30, 2007

Yellow Finches

I blame both my mother and my grandmother for being a closet birdwatcher. In particular my grandmother who we affectionately called "Green-Green" gave me an appreciation for noticing "the little things" in nature. Did you know that bumblebees are far more important pollinators than any other bee? I didn't until Green-Green told us. That is why I was taught to plant sunflowers in and around a vegetable garden. Bees terrify my daughter to the point of panic and the bigger the bee the worse her fear. Me? I can sit in a flower garden all day and enjoy the attention.

The summers I spent at my grandparent's mountain home were filled with an unknowing education about the outdoors and respecting the gift of nature. Fish we caught in their lake were either eaten or released back into the wild long before "catch & release" became popular. Of course the nasty carp were tossed into the garden as fertilizer which still held true to the philosophy of not wasting any of God's gifts.

Years passed by. In becoming a teenager and eventually an adult there seemed to be more responsibilities and less time (I thought) to take notice of the small things. Even though I filled by bird feeders on a regular basis when I got my own place I rarely paused long enough to appreciate the entertainment they can provide. Trips to my grandparents became less frequent. Horseback riding on pristine mountain trails was replaced with driving a car on mundane streets.

I was single when my grandfather died so I volunteered to stay with Green-Green on a regular basis until she became "confident" enough to stay by herself. Truth is that it was her children and grandchildren who were fearful of her being alone rather than she. And it turns out that those visits became important to my memory of her. I can see now the incredible strength she had which I didn't appreciate then. My family will really appreciate that last statement considering Green-Green wearing heels probably measured less than 5 feet.

Eventually the old mountain place became too big and Green-Green moved closer to the rest of the family here in Greenville. She seemed happy but looking back now it was obvious that she had lost her real joy for life. Even as great-grandchildren began to arrive on the scene and Green-Green slowly became "GG." I could see that the spark in her eyes just wasn't there any longer. Perhaps my mom and her sisters discussed it at some point but I never did. I just chalked it up to watching my grandmother getting older.

When Ben came along the sparkle seemed to return at least for a brief time. The fact that he moved at such a slow pace, that he could stare into her eyes for what seemed like hours at a time, the that he was a great-grandchild that physically needed GG's personal touch and attention rekindled something inside my grandmother. I'm positive that she truly appreciated one final small thing in nature.

The summer of 2001 was particularly a memorable period for us. Most Sunday afternoons my mother and Green-Green visited our house after church for lunch. When the meal was done Joan and Me-Ma retreated into the backyard to watch Jessie play for hours on the swing-set. Me, Ben, and GG sat on the sofa and watched the NASCAR races. Yes, you read that correctly. My tiny grandmother was an avid racing fan!

I knew that Papa (as we called him) was a huge baseball fan but I had no idea that he spent many Sunday afternoons watching stock car races. During those college and subsequent adult years not visiting my Paradise (the name Papa gave their place) ESPN was becoming popular televising sports outside of the mainstream. For those of you too young to remember NASCAR races were televised occasionally and only on a tape-delayed basis when nothing better was on. They had both become "closet" Dale Earnhardt fans. So throughout the 80s Papa spent many a Sunday switching the channels between Atlanta Braves games and stock car racing. All of this I learned as the three of us spent that one final summer together. The very same season that NASCAR mourned the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt.

That autumn my mom and her sisters looked into putting GG into an assisted living facility. Her health was becoming more fragile and despite having a day nurse she continued to injure herself in clumsy ways. Even though it was the best solution Green-Green talked her girls out of giving up her home.

In late November Ben became very ill and was hospitalized. A few days after he was placed in the Pediatric ICU Green-Green fell on her back porch. She was found unconscience by a neighbor and was rushed to the same hospital where her great-grandson resided. Despite the fact that the initial tests seemed to indicate that she would recover Wilma Blair Nolan Frazier's health continued to decline. She passed away in early December 2001.

I'll skip around some unnecessary details to say that my youngest brother Blair did the eulogy. I cannot tell you how proud I was of my little brother that day. As the patriarch of my immediate family there have been many moments that have made me stick my chest out and want to say scream, "I am his oldest brother!" Those few moments I was reduced to the equivalent of a squash.

One of my aunts found a very lengthy love-letter written by my Green-Green to Papa after his death. Blair read this note the day we laid Green-Green to rest. In a few short pages of scribbling I learned of the entire devotion my grandmother held for my grandfather. I will one day post it here when I can read through it and not be reduced to a quivering idiot. Needless to say that it was a a love letter asking my Papa how my Green-Green was going to be able to make it without him. Please read that last sentence if you are planning to marry someone in the next few weeks or months. Let me repeat the question a different way: How am I to survive without you?

My grandmother carried a broken heart the last decade of her life. When Cameron Arlan Frazier died, so did her joy. No one was left to enjoy the "small things" or the "little things" with her any longer. Her life and soul mate had moved on. Only when Ben arrived could someone finally listen to her tales of her mountain heritage, her lover for stock car racing, and the last few important thoughts she wanted to share with the rest of us.

About two weeks after GG's death we were being prepared to say farewell to Ben. "All we can do" was the message we heard loud and clear. Our family was devastated. It was December 17th and the thought of burying my son at Christmas was unbearable.

On the morning of December 18th Joan and I returned to the ICU to keep our vigil. For some reason Ben looked better. When the doctors came by on rounds they verified what we were hopefully thinking and praying. Ben was getting better. We witnessed another miracle as Ben came home on December 28th, just a short few days after being so close to death. I'm certain that the small group of loved ones that I mentioned a few days ago including Green-Green had something to do with Ben hanging on.

Our son will turn 8 in a little over a month. He is obviously not a typical boy of his age and I'm thankful for that. Yes, I do regret that we can't toss the ball in the front yard and I'll probably miss out on the sensation I experienced witnessing the thrill of Jessie going solo on her bike. But Ben gives all of us something very special. This morning while I gave him his bath I noticed that huge smile spread across his face. I turned around and saw two yellow finches hanging from the thistle feeder. Soon another one joined them.

I dressed Ben and then lifted him onto my lap. For the next hour we just sat and watched the finches getting their fill. An extra treat was seeing two hummingbirds fight over the nectar offered by a few late summer flowers. Through the eyes of my son and the memory of my grandmother once again I am able to truly enjoy the little things.


kimmyk said...

This my friend was beautiful.
Just today at work I was talking about how I wish I had a grandma growing up. I never did. I miss that. Your GG sounds like one wonderful lady and y'all were blessed to have her in your lives. I too believe it's those that pass on that give us little signs here and there that let us know we are not alone and things are going to be okay.

I can't imagine what it was like to take a peek into your grandparents love for one another by finding that special note. To love someone in that era was completely different. They don't make love like that anymore.

You gave my heart a smile and my body a chill today with this one...

moosh in indy. said...

And that is why God let you have Ben.

Karen said...

What a beautiful tribute. I am so glad I found your blog.

Kyla said...

Beautiful, beautiful.

The Curmudgeon said...

Sometimes I have to come back for the longer ones. I'm glad I came back for this one.