I watch my grandmother as she shuffles down the aisle of the church, her walker creaking with each step she takes as if it’s trying to prove a point. My grandmother was married in this church in Brooklyn, New York 60 years ago today at exactly 11:30am. I look at my watch. The time is exactly 11:25am. The walker’s entrance causes the scattered members of the congregation to raise their heads, which, moments earlier were bowed in silent prayer. I look around the cavernous space. It was clear that it had, at one point, been beautiful, but the hands of time had marred its once breathtaking features. The hand painted statues, carved exquisitely out of wood, appeared distorted due to the chipping acrylics. The stained glass windows, once spectacularly detailed, were dull and dark from the dust and rot accumulating from both the outside and inside of the building.
A train rumbles by and the vibrations cause a large chandelier above me to swing in a slightly diagonal direction like a confused clock pendulum. This adds another sound to the walker’s initially solo attempt at revealing the age of its owner. Now it’s turned into a chorus of creaks and groans, echoing sorrowfully into the space around us.
My grandmother spots a statue of Mary and slides over to the pulpit that stands before it. She sits down upon the padded seat on her walker and bows her head to pray. I can hear her crying and I bow my head too. I am sitting in an aisle a few rows back from the statue to respect my grandmother’s space. I try to hold back tears to remain strong for her, but grief overcomes me and I surrender to it. My grandfather passed away two months prior and the sorrow of the loss is easily unearthed whenever I feel my grandmother missing him. I realize that at this moment I am not crying for my loss. I am crying for hers.
My grandparents had a love for one another that was beautiful to watch. I often found myself trying to catch secret glimpses of their interactions because I knew from a very young age that their relationship revealed something special and rare: love in its truest form. From the tenderness they shared to their brief and often humorous tiffs with one another, the glow of love never left the two of them. And, long as you were nearby, you could feel its warmth too.
Each night before my grandfather would go to bed he’d blow two kisses to my grandmother and she would say, “Say goodnight Gracie!”
Because his voice was deep and his speech eloquent, everything he said sounded stately, even when he was being funny.
“Goodnight Gracie!” He would bellow with a joyful chuckle.
It never got old.
I think about this before I let my thoughts give into hating the unfairness of it all. Time and death are cruel. The present state of this church and my grandmother’s increasingly frail frame are evidence of this. But, as I watch my grandmother wipe away her tears and rise up from her makeshift seat, I realize my grandfather is here with us. Not in physical form, but in the preserved state of my memories. I can still hear his jubilant laughter and its echo is much louder than the creaks and groans of the present. My grandmother lends me a smile as she makes her way back down the aisle where she once walked toward a future with my grandfather 60 years ago today. This time, she’s walking in the opposite direction without him by her side. I hear her sigh as I open the door to lead her out, and then as if she is thinking the same thing I am, she quietly says, “Say goodnight Gracie.”
We both smile because we can hear his voice as clear as day momentarily abating the sting of his absence.
At the wedding of my grandparents: October 6, 1951 Brooklyn, NY
My grandmother walking down the very same aisle 60 years later.