When I look back on my childhood I remember two things my grandma loved especially the most during the day: drinking her coffee in her little kitchen and watching her soap operas on CBS.
As a 36 year-old woman I still have an unspoken allegiance for The Young and The Restless, The Bold and The Beautiful, As The World Turns and Guiding Light because of my grandma Lena.
She knew every in and out and every crazy storyline taking place in those fictional cities of soap opera land. And I knew that from 12:30 pm until 4 pm, my little brown tail needed to find something fun and quiet to do while she sat back and got down with her soaps.
Being that we were country folk from a little small town called Eatonton in middle Georgia, she made sure we finished up dinner (codeword for lunch) before the soaps came on so she was ready to watch “her stories.” Supper would come later in the evening (codeword for dinner).
Her commentary on the latest and scandalous events happening in the shows would always crack me up. “Oh, that Nikki with her nasty self and her fast tail, she oughta be ashamed of herself sleeping with that man when she know she married to Victor” and “That old rascal Jack, he’s just a crook” and so on and so forth.
Her commitment to these t.v. soaps and watching people who always never got a happy ending (because if soaps had a happy ending where would the drama be and who wants to watch that) made me feel connected to her in a special way. In my best way, my young 10 year-old self was ride or die with her as a neophyte soap opera fan, agreeing about Nikki’s adulterous ways, shaking my head at Jack’s witty and sly behavior and committed to these storylines because my grandma Lena was committed to these story lines.
I don’t know when she started watching soaps. But they made a connection to her life and whether she found escape through them or just some comfortable relaxation, Lena loved her soaps and I loved her for loving me and letting me watch them with her.
Later on in my teens I realized how crazy these soaps were as I tried to create allegiance to some ABC and NBC shows but nobody ended up staying happy! And I wanted people to be happy! I wanted people to have their happily ever afters but many of the characters just seemed to be waking up with their morning afters from plenty of bedroom romps, devious business schemes and other “what the what” storylines. I eventually had to hang up my soap opera watching jacket. It was just all too much for me.
But I often think of my grandma when I think of soaps.
I think about how much she loved watching hers. I think about the daily commitment she had during the week to see her stories. I think about how she’d talk to me about the characters and ask me what I thought. I think about the memories I have of her and I am grateful.
This Saturday marks two years since she breathed her last breath this side of heaven and went to be with the Lord in heaven. My grief and my mourning over her death these last two years have taken me through a journey that I would have never fashioned for myself but I also wouldn’t trade for anything because I am completely a different woman, writer and human being as a result. I’m a better Melody even though I became a broken Melody. I’m a stronger Melody even though I was a wounded Melody. That pain of grief clarified and changed my life in a positive way. It was hellish but it purified me like gold being placed through fire.
My family has a shared love for Lena Mae Brown and also a shared suffering in our grief and mourning in losing her. I remember being in Eatonton right after she died and going over to my great aunt Essie Mae’s home because I needed some air as my family was going through things at my grandma’s and I was starting to feel very anxious and overwhelmed.
My heart was beating and I just wanted to run away. I asked Essie Mae if I could come over and she gladly welcomed me. She’s a beautiful soul, has likely never met a stranger in her life and has loved me as long as I can remember. She’s two years younger than my grandma and they were two peas in a pod, both calling each other “Mae” when they’d talk to one another.
I spent lots of time at her home when I was little, having sleepovers with her granddaughters, my cousins April and Hope, and playing as little girls do. Going to her home I found my way to her bedroom and just laid down. Nostalgia, memories and sadness flooded my heart all at the same time. I found some rest but I couldn’t get away from the reality that someone I loved had died, this was true and my life would never be the same.
I wanted to just drive down the old Georgia country red clay roads in the city I’d spent so many summers of my life in and just find some kind of freedom and escape from the grief and mourning that was fervently pursuing me. I wanted the sun to wash over my face and I wanted the blueness of the clouds to wrap me up in love and take me to a place where my heart didn’t feel so broken anymore.
Grandmothers are some kind of special. Mothers are the first friends many of us have in life. Grandmothers are those magical she-roes that our mothers come from and in my eyes my grandma Lena was an automatic legend to me. She was just some kind of beautiful wonderful to me. She was a second mama and she was also my friend. Her death hurt me deeply.
My cousin Brian and my mom came some time later and picked me up from my great aunt’s place. I remember sitting in the back of Brian’s car as my mom and him talked about funeral arrangements and life insurance and funeral costs. I laid down and started crying softly.
They both quieted their talking as my mom reached back and touched me with her hand. My tears were my language that I just didn’t want it all to be the way it was.
But it was that way.
Death was real.
My pain was a clear indicator of that.