Ella Mae Slone

February 26, 1921 - October 7, 2001

I sat in front of Grandma. She was brushing my hair. Grandma used long gentle strokes on my straight strands.

In the summer, nights were often ended in such a manner. My parents usually went out for the night; my younger sister was sleeping, or pretending to do so.

Mosquitoes hung in the hot air just outside the screens as crickets chirped, frogs ribbited, and dogs barked up the holler.

They were the sounds, the music of Mother Nature.

To a blind child, such as myself, it was more than music. It was entertainment, escapism and enchantment. An entire world just beyond the walls of house that stood upon flood poles, above where cats hissed and snakes slithered.

Grandma's words were as gentle as her touch. She had a voice that belonged to an angel. The soft tones made looms and hummingbirds take notice. That same voice made a young blind girl smile, laugh and, most importantly, dream. Dream of a future filled with whatever my imagination could dream up.

The moon wasn't out of my reach. Not as I listened to Grandma explain that life is what we make it. Life is to be lived, not to watch pass by. We will be known by what we do, a kind word given or a prayer offered for others. True acceptance comes from within. And, if you can't say anything nice about someone, say nothing at all.

In Grandma's company, my blindness didn't exist.

For a little while I was normal. During the summers and holidays spent with Grandma, I was sighted.

As Grandma brushed out my hair, she shared stories full of magical realism and Kentucky folklore. Grandma talked of the old days. There were stories of when she herself was a little girl, stories of her own grandma brushing out her hair and sharing the past.

During these long hours with Grandma I could pretend I was her favorite.

It wasn't true, though. Grandma was special, not only to me but to all of her grandchildren. We were all unique to Grandma. We were all loved, and listened to.

As the years passed, I grew and flourished as I learned that Grandma was often right in her predictions.

She knew my parents would raise me as a sighted child, giving no slack. A greater gift couldn't have been given to me.

She knew I would find true friendship that withstood time and distance. And that I would have courage to look for true love.

Though not at a barn dance where her parents discovered each other.

As years passed, recipes were taught, tears shed, laughter given and advice taken. Miracles happened, along with life. Grandchildren and great grandchildren were welcomed, grumbled at, and prayed for.

Lives were mended and some lost, all touched by the heart and hand of a grandma who loved well.

Memories were stored. After all, what more is life, but memories? There was not a child who stepped off of Grandma's back porch who did not hear, "Watch out for them there snakes. They'll getcha." Many of them were lucky enough to be escorted across the creek to the outhouse in the middle of the night or awakened at dusk by the crow of her rooster.

Folk tales of foxes were passed down through the generations. Corn bread was baked and spread with real butter, served along with pork chops that were fried in lard. The lard was taken from huge cans that stood in for stools. Sweet tasting water, hand pumped or pulled up from a well, was drank from a dipper. Watermelon, fresh from the garden, was often eaten until you nearly burst.

Over the years, days were spent listening to the crackle of Grandma's coal burning stove and many more hours listening to the sound of rain pinging on the tin roof. These were the treasured sounds of music and magic. Nights were spent listening to dads and uncles gambling at Grandma's kitchen table. Insults were traded as a hand was lost or stolen.

There were family reunions in which stories of Grandma were traded, often causing a blush to spread across her pretty face.

Who would have ever guessed that Grandma had done that? Grandma chased Daddy down with a broom? She caught Grandpa in the act of "getting busy" before he'd even asked her out and stole all their clothes? She let Auntie get married when she was thirteen? Grandma had issues with her own mother-in-law? Grandma had a crush on JR Ewing—as in Larry Hagman?

When the time was right, a beautiful autumn day arrived completing the cycle of an angel's life. Fall was always one of Grandma's favorite seasons. It was a good time to join lost siblings, children, and grandchildren. To reunite with lost husbands. The family has often wondered if they fought over her when she joined them. She was buried in the hills where she'd spent her entire life, the hills that she loved.

As I stood atop the mountain that overlooked the hollers below, I hugged my own daughter and whispered, "Look around and tell me what you see."

"I see sadness," answered my teary-eyed child.

I blinked my own tears away and shook my head. "Oh no." I forcefully swallowed passed the lump in my throat. "All I see is beauty. Grandma would have loved today. Loved all the magnificent colors of fall."

My daughter nodded. "It is pretty, Mommy."

I drew in a breath and listened, not to the grief of relatives nor the preacher droning on about the sadness of death and the welcoming of heaven. But to the wind that blew across the colorful Kentucky mountain tops, rustling leaves. I imagined that it was the swish of angel's wings and the breath of tomorrow.

© 2005 Melissa Combs