By Laura Hicks Hardy
The bedside table holds three books: a children’s book of nursery rhymes, a picture book of the Old Testament, and its companion for the New Testament. When my mom visits Granny, she reads to her from one of these, and Granny chimes in when she remembers a phrase or a name. Maybe remembers is not the right word. If you ask her to recite “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” or the story of Joseph she will say, “Why, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You sure do ask a lot of an old woman.” But if you start into the sing-song cadence of a nursery rhyme, its rhythm remembers for her.
“To market, to market to buy a fat pig,” mom starts. Granny joins with a triumphant smile, “Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” My mom remembers that this rhyme was part of a ritual Granny enacted every time she came home, no matter who was driving her. Granny doesn’t remember that now, even though she still completes the rhyme.
“Home again, home again,” she used to say to herself and whoever was driving her home. She would lightly slap her knee to the rhythm, right as the tires crunched and smoothed over the gravel of her driveway. Even later, when she would sit in her house proclaiming, “This is not where I live,” she would still finish the rhyme when one of us drove her home. This simple ritual of leaving and returning, reciting these words, could remind her where home was, placing her and assuring her in a way that she could not trust her memory to do. Moments after this, Granny would be back in a strange house, wondering how she got there.
It Really Happened?
Granny recites the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm like they are nursery rhymes, joining in on the familiar parts. The longer stories don’t come as easily. My mom lets her choose a Bible story, carefully reading her the list from the front of the book. As she listens, Granny nods at the sudden familiarity in the story, occasionally murmuring, “Yeah, yeah,” under her breath, as if, instead of listening, she’s just remembering something she had lost. After the more miraculous stories—bands of angels in the night, fish to feed multitudes—she sits back, slowly releases a held breath, and raises her eyebrows at us, contemplating stories she has heard her whole life as if for the first time.
“And that all really happened?” She asks it like she already knows the answer, and maybe part of her still does. Maybe not. Who can say? “Well, it’s a good story.”
Granny sits in her faith like a worn-in chair. She doesn’t question its existence or demand answers of it. She doesn’t ask it where she’s headed next. Granny can’t tell you a thing she believes about salvation, redemption, atonement, or sin, but when she sits back in this chair after hearing the old, astonishing stories again, somehow it holds. Her confusion and amazement tell me that, in the end, faithfulness is not primarily about rational assertions. It is something we inhabit. It comes back to us, after years of daily habits and small rituals, even when we can’t recall it on our own. It is lived in rather than explained.
Granny’s posture belongs to someone who has worn a comfortable and practiced faithfulness for most of her life. It exists beyond her ability to know it, rumbling under her life with the rhythms of old nursery rhymes.
Laura Hicks Hardy is a writer, English instructor, and Writing Center director at King University in Bristol, Tennessee.