By Mark Pratt
I had been back six months before I decided to go out and see her. I hadn’t consciously put it off; it just sort of happened. I would come into town for the weekend, visit my family, see friends and my girlfriend, and then hurry back to the base in a rush.
Now I drove over the rolling hills of Draper’s Valley on the thin road of gravel and tar. The air had an unusually chilly bite to it for June, but I rolled the window down anyway. I was sweating and I welcomed the sudden rush of air. The smells of the country infused my car with grass, trees, and cattle. It was a smell that reminded me of her. I lit a cigarette and sucked down that first tangy-sweet inhalation of tobacco, completing the scented remembrance of my grandmother.
She had smoked all of her adult life. It is probably what killed her. Seemed fitting, in a way, that I would pick up the habit too. I had spent just about every day of my life around her. She was mysterious, from a world that seemed romantic and strange. Her world was one of black and white photos—Model T Fords, bobbed hair, and large houses. She was beautiful in those days; intelligence and humor radiated from her eyes. Her youthful beauty was the only thing that changed between those pictures and the real-life person; a few more wrinkles had been added. But now the world she represented was gone, buried beneath the grass of a grave that I had put off visiting.
I received her last letter the same day I was notified of her death. I was in Africa with the Marine Corps, evacuating refugees from war-torn Zaire. I made the decision not to request a flight back home for her funeral. I couldn’t.
I carried the letter into a bathroom stall and locked the door so my friends wouldn’t see me weep. In her letter she wrote about the weather and her flowers. She told me the news from “the Valley,” complained of her bad knee, and ended the letter the same way she ended all of her letters: “I continue to pray for you and your friends. I hope you are living like a good Christian man.”
I wasn’t. And I think she knew.
She Never Quit
She never quit praying for me; she never quit hoping. Every letter that she sent me had said the same two things. Time after time she told me that she was praying for me and that she hoped I lived my life how she had taught me to live it.
As I watch my sons grow now, I understand the hope she had for me. It is a hope that looks forward to the future. It is an understanding that my sons have to find their faith on their own. It is my hope that they won’t make the same mistakes I made. I hope that I prepare them adequately for their own journey.
My grandmother prayed every day for me. It is fitting, in a way, that I pick up this habit too.
Mark Pratt is a church planter in Cleveland, Ohio.