My favorite memory of my Grandma is the time when, after a visit at the McDonalds drive-through, she managed to spill an entire strawberry milkshake all over the interior of her ’82 Ford Escort. From my perspective as a 4 year old, it appeared as if she had intentionally gunned the car, making the big cup slide off the dashboard and toward me, only to be caught midair and crushed with the might of a Grandmother’s mighty falcon grip, thereby forcing all the strawberry goo to become ballistic. In other words, it slipped, she caught it before it hit me, and ended up putting the shake everywhere else (radio, vents, in the glovebox, etc). In my innocence, I looked up at her at the stop light and asked, with genuine curiosity: Grandma? Why did you do that?
I had no idea that Carolyn took a bullet for me and my corduroys.
While I can still remember that moment with the cold pink goo — because, honestly, who forgets a trauma like that? — what I really remember now is how she enjoyed telling that story every time we saw each other. I do believe that, even in our last visit, she brought it up again and retold the story, saving her huge laugh for the line “Grandma, why did you do that?”
It’s just one of many memories I’ll have to hold onto until I see her again. Certainly there’s the other stuff. Lots of harmonious music, which came naturally to her as a solid first tenor. She played every early album from Christian singer Carman for her grandchildren, which is not to be confused with Carmen, an opera by Frank Bizet, by the way. Lots of Gaither music, Brooklyn Tabernacle, and the rest. She sang hymns in my ear before I even knew what a stanza was (still unsure) and played her Kimball Entertainer Organ with gusto, using beats like the waltz, bossa nova, and a dangerously worldly dance rhythm called the Fox Trot. She taught me musical language and dexterity by singing constantly. Chords are made up of a collection of notes that keep a consistent distance between each other as they move around the scale. A third naturally fits here, a fifth below, and they ride together on the rails of a melody while maintaining the proper voicing of harmony. I knew that stuff for a long time, mostly because of Grandma and, of course, my father, who grew up in the same world and passed it on to me, too. I just didn’t know that it had name and even a theoretical structure until college.
Another story she liked to tell, especially at weddings: I was a freshly-diaperless toddler sitting on the can (toilet, potty) singing I just feel like something good is about to happen — a song that her and her sisters sang in glorious genetic harmony at churches all over. Such a positive lyric really inspired me, even at an early age.
All those hymns I’ve led congregations in singing over the years as a worship pastor/”music evangelist” were led first by Grandma in a congregation of one — me, in her arms, rocking gently. So I’m told. Oh, I don’t remember that, but I certainly believe it.
When I fell off my fort and cut a gash in the back of my head, it was Grandma who took my mom and me to Annapolis Hospital. She assured me that, were I to receive the 4 stitches without making too much of a fuss, I would get a package of Reese’s Pieces from the vending machine. I did my part and she did hers. I remember that whenever I see ’em.
Michigan has its variety of weather, and sometimes the variety ends up being enough to prompt an older couple to raise a toast on their way to warmer climes. I didn’t see her as much, though every other summer or so I’d be down there in South Carolina with her, Grandpa, and my cousins. We had good times at the beach, at the little Wesleyan Church she and Mr. Ed attended, and especially wonderful Wednesday nights out to eat a plate of popcorn shrimp. I knew she loved me and could feel it instantly with every joyous hug hello and heartbreaking hug goodbye as we headed north. It’s hard to say goodbye. It always is.
And boy, did she remember how food worked, even after they moved. Emily and I were just engaged and decided to make a road trip down to her place in SC, accompanied by my sister as our chaperone. I noticed one morning that Grandma was cooking bacon slices that were cut in half. Why? Because they’re easier to manage and can soak up the caramelized sugar. Sugar? Indeed. A little brown sugar on little pieces of bacon makes a huge difference. She also did a bang-up job with fried chicken. Shrimp scampi. Roasts of every animal. All made with love and copious amounts of butter.
By the time I was in high school Grandma had written a gaggle of books for Harlequin. I still remember how excited she was to have A Question of Virtue published. She wrote that thing on a cranky old Commodore 64. It was good — certainly good enough to lead to many more historical romance novels with her name on them. Have I read any? As it turns out, every writer writes autobiographically. I wasn’t sure if I wanted that information. Okay, okay. A few pages. A few. I’m no romance book enthusiast, but I do enjoy the looks on people’s faces when they see me at bookstores looking for one of Carolyn Davidson’s books. What can I say? I’m proud of her. But no, I haven’t read any. Especially not sections of Gerrity’s Bride.
She wrote romance from the heart and was lifelong exclusive to her wonderful husband, which is a special thing in our world today. She loved her family very much. She loved the Lord. She’s left all of us, including her husband (my Grandpa), as well as her kids, her grandkids, her friends, and all the rest of us to say goodbye. This won’t be easy, but there’s peace in knowing that she’s with Jesus. I would guess that, once I see her again, she’ll gather a group around to tell the story about the strawberry milkshake.