My Grandma and the Ladybug
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
By Ali Diamond
“You know, she was the type to leave full-size candy bars out on Halloween.” I said. “She was known for it, actually. People would come from the next neighborhood over…” I stopped. “No.. “Two towns over. It was remarkable.”
I looked around the white, sterile office. Two large windows, bordered with unusually large black frames, overlooked the Ohio River. It was nearing mid-day, but on the earlier side, so the dock workers hadn’t gone to lunch yet and still scurried like ants from my perspective.
It was thick, shatter-proof glass, I realized. That’s why the black frames were so big. To prevent people from jumping.
“She… she, uh.” I stopped short to clear my throat. “She’d grow hydrangeas too. These massive, purple flowery plants that completely overpowered the sidewalk. “I couldn’t, I mean I could barely…” I stopped again, feeling my throat seize up.
“Yes?” I said, quickly clearing my throat.
“I’m going to need you to sign here.” The funeral director tapped the stack of paper sitting on her desk, the pen pointed towards me like a loaded gun. “It’s time, honey.”
Life insurance, mortgage documents, tax documents, real estate property, a copy of the Will. My head felt thick, and the stack of paper only continued to grow.
BANG. I jumped, as the door flew open, shattering the eerie silence.
“I’m sorry that took me so long.” The funeral director said, as she sat down on the other side of that titanic white desk. She felt oceans away from me, even though it was only a couple feet at most. I cleared my throat. “It’s… okay.” I tried to mutter. But she didn’t hear me.
My words were like water, and they fell from my lips and into my lap.
Because there, sitting in the center of that iceberg of a desk, sat a small white box.
It was so… empty. A horrible feeling suddenly took hold of me. I’d messed up somehow. They must’ve given me someone else. Maybe I’d filled out the paperwork wrong, or made the appointment too late and now, now she was gone. Lost. And now I’m stuck with someone else, somebody smaller and more… insignificant, packed into this cheap, white-washed pine-paneled box because there was no way that this could be.. that this could be her… But..
“My nana grew roses.”
My train of thought stopped, and I looked up. “What?”
The funeral director smiled, her eyes looking sad. “My nana grew roses, actually. I can still remember how wild they were, growing into all the neighbors yards. I had grown up with my grandma too, after my parents passed. Not in a car accident, like yours, but from carbon monoxide poisoning.” She said quietly. “The roses were wild, but beautiful. These big, red roses… It was funny, my nana would bring me to HOA meetings to watch as the whole neighborhood fought over ‘em.”
I felt my face crack into a smile, feeling as a small wave of warmth washed in. “What uh, what happened to them? The roses?”
She opened her mouth to answer but something suddenly chimed loudly on her computer. Suddenly engrossed, she flicked the mouse furiously and I heard the soft whooshes of emails being rapidly sent. A long moment passed. “Oh, uh.” She muttered after a bit, and without even looking up. “I guess they were torn up. After she passed.”
I saw myself out.
My grandma had been a tough woman. She’d grown up in a middle-class family with three younger sisters and three younger brothers, with her squarely as the oldest. Her father had been a teller at the bank down the street, while her mother stayed at home and tended to the children and the chickens they kept out back. For a while she’d lived a pretty easy existence, or at least as easy as possible for a girl in the 1930’s, but that simple existence changed overnight when her father was caught in the crossfire of a bank robbery gone deadly.
In less than a year, they’d gone from middle-class, to poor, to destitute.
The iron will of my grandmother’s spirit bent, but it never broke. Using the skills she gained from the hours spent mending holes in her younger siblings clothes, she became a seamstress to the wealthy and helped pull her mother from poverty. “A phoenix,” she’d always say with a flourish, and in a dramatic tone, “draped in a cloak of a million colors.”
That’s when she’d grab my chin, forcing me to look up into her deep-set dark eyes. “You too,” she’d say. “You’re like a phoenix too.”
I’d never been strong enough to hold her gaze for long.
I’d been sitting on this park bench for almost an hour at this point. It was her favorite spot, with the perfect vantage point looking out over the Ohio River, and of all the people running alongside it too. This became a joke for her, especially as she got older, “why bird-watch?” She’d always say, “When people watching was so much more interesting.”
On sunny days, we’d head here with a picnic. On rainy days, we’d head here with an umbrella and a bottle of wine. And on my tough days, we’d head here too.
Couldn’t have been easy for my grandma, to have escaped her childhood of grief, only to be shackled with a child who’s grief was just beginning. I could barely remember my parents, they’d died when I was so young, but I felt their loss like an impacted wisdom tooth. It infected everything I did.
But after every fight, every glass broken, every intentional cut she found on my skin, she’d bring me here. She’d sit me down, and take my small pointed chin in her calloused hands. “Rise.” She’d say. “There’s nothing for you in the ashes.”
The black tide threatened to rise up, as strong as the day I was pulled from that wrecked car. Tears leaked from my eyes as I screwed them shut. Holding my breath, I slowly started to count to ten. But suddenly, I paused. I felt something.
It was a ladybug. On my knee. Small, and orange, and… waiting. We looked at each other and a long moment passed. I felt the tears rise up, but this time I didn’t blink them back.
“Thank you.” I whispered as I held back a sob.
Another moment passed, as the ladybug sat sunning itself on my knee. Then, in a gentle motion, she opened her wings and flew away.