“Sarah Jane, I need you to take me into town for a few hours this afternoon,” my grandmother says, standing in front of the ottoman where my feet are propped up. Jane is not my middle name, and she knows this, but that does nothing to change that it’s what she’s called me for 23 years.
That afternoon I help her into my car, shutting the heavy door behind her while she wrestles to buckle her seat belt with trembling hands. When we make it to the store, she grabs my arm for balance, a little more unsteady on her feet then she was this time last year. I’m a fast walker by nature, and must work extra hard to slow my steps to match hers. We’re browsing racks of clothes in the only department store in town, looking for a new outfit for some function or another in her busy social calendar.
“What about this?” I inquire, holding up a short sleeve blouse with delicate pearl buttons, a shade of coral I know she loves.
“Old broads can’t wear short sleeves, Sarah Jane,” she explains to me. “Our arms are too saggy. And I can’t wear a shirt like that until I lose these last five pounds.”
I put the blouse back on the rack.
My Grandpa loves to talk about when he and Grandma lived at the “old house”, the little red house he built to raise their family in so many years ago. He especially loves to tell stories of her doing cartwheels in the front yard.
“Round and round and round and round she’d go,” he says, making circles in the air with his pointer finger, a glimmer in his eye.
Age has not taken an ounce of his love for her.
I think about this on days like today, where she talks about the last few pounds she wants to lose. I think of her young, strong body doing cartwheel after cartwheel while her babies looked on and laughed in delight. I think of her carrying those babies into the world, all five of them, getting so big with the twins that the only thing that fit her were a pair of Grandpa’s Levi’s with the seams let out.
I think of how scarlet fever almost took her as a child, and the damage it did to her heart. I think of the surgeries she had as a young woman to give her a new valve, and how to this day, if you sit close enough to her, you can hear the plastic ticking with every heartbeat.
I think of how the doctor told her she wouldn’t survive carrying my Mama to term, but she did.
I think about how her body has carried her through the great depression, a world war, and 65 years of marriage. I think of how strong and beautiful and battle scarred her frame is, but how, at the age of 84, when she looks in the mirror, the first thing she sees is five extra pounds.
That night I called my sister.
“Kate, promise me something.”
“Uh, ok,” she replied. “Promise you what?”
“Promise me that when we’re old, we won’t be worried about losing weight.”
“When we’re old, promise me that we won’t still be talking about how nice it would be if we lost a few pounds. Promise me that we’ll be drinking wine and laughing and telling ourselves we’re beautiful and brave and strong and promise me we’ll wear whatever the hell we want.”
“Ok…” she said, a little confused.
“And I don’t want to spend the next 60 years worrying about it either. Promise me we won’t let those voices into our heads. It’s not worth it. We’ve got too much life to live.”
“Ok,” she agreed, sensing the urgency in my voice. “I promise.”
While getting ready for bed, I take a few moments to look at myself in the mirror. I think of the good spoken at creation, the mysterious dignity brought by the incarnation, and the future hope of resurrection. I examine my 5’ 4” frame, and marvel at how it’s this flesh and bone that carries us through the telling of all of our stories.
There is too much wonder to be had for worries of five extra pounds.