Uncle David picked me up from the Houston airport and took me to Granny's service at St. Philip's. When we walked in, there was a beautiful hymn playing. I went up to the loft to see the organ and accidentally startled the organist.
Two ministers presided, one happy and one sad. The happy one talked about death. The sad one said that my grandmother had stormed into his office during his first week on the job and demanded, "What are you going to do about social justice in our presbytery?"
"I am going to do what God requires," he had replied.
She said, "You'd better."
The sad minister concluded, "Margie Deming was social justice."
It was odd to hear her summed up in that way, to read the extensive list of her accomplishments in the program: raising three sons on her own while working full-time and putting herself through grad school, helping AIDS patients, mission work in Mexico, hosting exchange students from Taiwan, serving on a million church committees.
When I was little I used to be scared of the old lady with the weird accent who demanded, "Sit on my lap and give me some sugar!" I was an outsider in her family, taken up North and raised by Jews. As I got older, I stopped being afraid of Granny, but I never felt truly at home.
I think I underestimated her because she was so different from me: anti-sentiment, tough as nails, little patience for art, no love life save the Harlequin romances she blew through by the box. When I read her obituary, I realized how much of her energy was spent in action, how little in analysis or emotion. Her way of loving was to work. I wondered at the strength of her, a strength that kept her alive 94 years.
David took me back to the place he was housesitting, where we fed the feral cat and the cardinals and the squirrel. We watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, Mad Max 2, and the beginning of Hang Em High. We ate many kolaches, a delicious Czech pastry that comes with various fillings and forms the core of my uncle's diet.
According to Sophia Rosoff, my husband's piano teacher and the wisest person I know, the dead look after us from above. They are especially handy with transportation; Sophia's late husband Noah has been known to procure taxis in a pinch. I do believe Granny flexed her new angelic muscles during my return trip. I look forward to her continued patronage.
My fellow Pappadeaux's patrons and I discovered that we had all just celebrated milestone birthdays. I was forty; the two gentlemen were fifty; and the lady at the end was, astonishingly, sixty. All of us, we concurred, looked at least ten years less than our purported age. We celebrated with tequila shots.
When I looked for a place to sit at the gate, I paused, mesmerized, before the man with the little dog. He said something about how she liked to sit on people's laps.
"Can she sit on mine?" I asked.
Her name was Sugar. She was a therapy dog for PTSD.
His name was David Smith, which was Granny's maiden name. He was a Vietnam vet, going to Dallas for Mother's Day, and he wore a bracelet that read ONE LOVE.
I showed him a picture of Granny, and he showed me a picture of his mom, and we agreed that they looked a lot alike. It reminded me of the time Granny came up for my brother's wedding and paid a visit to my mother's mother, Bernice. The two old ladies sat side by side on the sofa: Margie the Texan farmwoman, self-made and tall and strong, her mind already going; Bernice the Cleveland Jew, small and plump and clever, her thoughts still clear. Time dissolves distinctions. At 20 these women would have had nothing to say to each other. At 90 they were sisters.
"There are three things in life you control," said David Smith. "The thoughts in your head. The choices you make. Your actions. After that, you're not in control of anything. We think we are, but there's higher forces in control at that end."