May 15th

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, May 23, 2013

This column is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Hazel Bray Barden, who died Wednesday, May 15, at the age of 90. She was a feisty woman who lived a long and full life.

The following was written by my sister, Alyce Loeser, on the occasion of her death and read during her funeral, which was held in the beautiful Grove United Methodist Church this past Saturday.

As my sister read, sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild listened. It was chilly and damp outside. It had rained that morning. The rain had stopped in time for the service, but the sky was overcast and heavy.

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We sat on long wooden pews with spindle backs and delicate legs. Light poured in from tall windows and although the two wood stoves placed on either side of the building were not lit, the crowd of those who came to pay their last respects warmed the church.

it is may 15th and you are eight…pounding down the dirt road bare foot, long brown hair flying

down to your daddy's general store for a piece of licorice

along besides the rail road tracks, the joyous roar and pounding of trains coming and going, the deep harmony of their whistle pulsing through this tiny town

you will go on to live many, many places but you will always come back to here to Union Level, returning in your mind to this tiny railroad town…

on the clean smooth wood of the front porch you sit with a litter of kittens, scrambling and mewing, you are transfixed and your eyes sparkle

your mama watches you play through the window- she smiles… she loves her baby girl

you will go on to have babies of your own and grandchildren and great-grandchildren-

but today you know only that it is a spring day and you are eight and there is much to see…

such a juxtaposition of joy and sorrow lie waiting quietly before you- but today you are unaware

today it is May 15th and you are a young girl

the late spring air is warm and heavy with the smell of blooming roses and the promise of all the adventure to be had, all the beauty to be seen…

today you will sing loud, and often, for you love to sing- your daddy, pretending to be stern, will correct you for singing at the table but later he will scoop his youngest daughter into a sweeping bear hug and twirl and twirl 'til both of you are dizzy

you will one day say goodbye to both your mother and your father, but you will never forget them and as you grow older you will think and speak of both of them often…

today is May 15th and you have played all day long, the twilight is darkening, and the first stars of the soft spring night look down

your mama and your daddy are standing on the porch calling you to come in for dinner and bed-

such a long and full and sweet day you have had, you've climbed and swung and run, but night is coming and it is time to go home

today is May 15th and your mama and daddy and sisters and family are waiting- and so many of those who loved you and knew you stand anxious waiting for you to come in from your long day

pick up the hem of your faded cotton dress and run, through the gathering lightening bugs and the falling dew, lift up your feet and run. It is May 15 grandma. Welcome Home.

We sang, we listened. The preacher read a passage Grandma had written in her Bible of a conversion experience, an experience of the love of God that occurred one Christmas Eve while she knelt, alone, on the frosty ground next to the Cartersville dump.

Grandsons and great-grandsons carried the coffin to the hearse and we all filed out, walking behind it, along the gravel road to her plot in the graveyard. The woods were lush and musky with the scent of spring. Thousands of dandelions had bloomed that morning, decorating the graveyard with bright yellow, as if to make up for the absence of the sun.

Grandma loved color and collecting things. As she grew older and was unable to fill her life with many of the activities she loved later in life – weekends at Lake Gaston, fishing, playing the piano, cooking, caring for her beloved pets – her handkerchief and bandana collection became one of the few ways she could still bring color into her life. She made sure the day's selection matched her outfit each morning. She kept one always with her. Tucked beside her in her wheelchair. Clinched in her hand as she fell asleep.

One was tucked under her hands in the casket.

Before we left, we sang to her beside the empty grave, a capella,

Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away;

To a home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away.

Her bandanas and handkerchiefs were hung from clothesline along the edge of the woods next to her grave: traditional red and black cowboy bandanas, prim old-fashioned handkerchiefs made out of thin cotton, black and green camouflage, purple flowered patterns, a dark brown handkerchief she had trimmed with yellow thread. They were a rainbow against the dark green of the forest.