Grandma Alice’s wrinkled face and silvery hair glowed in the candlelight as she presided over another marvelous Easter dinner. It was her eighty-fifth year but she never complained, despite her many aches and pains. The ultimate hostess, her house had been the holiday gathering place for three generations of hungry relatives for as long as this young boy could remember.
Before dinner, the house was filled with laughter and good-natured ribbing as family got reacquainted after being apart far too long. This was a time before cell phones and Facebook…so phone calls were few and far between. Back then, a “long distance” call was a big deal; expensive too.
Background music was provided by Grandma’s ancient record player and a stack of albums featuring Benny Goodman and a host of other famous folks. Big bands, polkas and the occasional waltz were the the tunes of Grandma’s day.
The massive dark cherry-wood table belonged in a Norman Rockwell painting. Huge turkey, surrounded by steaming bowls of potatoes, corn, green beans, squash, and my Great Aunt’s famous black cherry Jello dish. Two tall candles were lit and then it was time for the family matriarch, Aunt Jinna, to pray. She was Grandma Alice’s older sister and since both of their husbands had passed, they were all that was left of that generation. My aunt’s voice was clear and strong when she prayed and, even as a young boy, I took note that the God she called upon had to be very real indeed. With a solemn “Amen”, the time came to eat and talk, and then eat some more.
During dinner, it was great fun to hear the banter bounce around the room. My dad and mom did their best to get the older ladies ruffled, but rarely succeeded. The elders loved to tell stories of their childhood days. They shared of many challenges but were quick to point out that they’d also managed to travel the world, attend fancy balls, to draw near to the Lord, and to raise rock solid families, as well. Little did I know that this would be the last Easter dinner with my beloved grandmother and that her time to leave us was very close at hand. To this day, the pain of her passing is balanced by a most marvelous thing that happened during that final Easter dinner.
Just before dessert, Grandma Alice told about one particular night, decades earlier, when she attended a wedding. She described her beautiful gown, her fancy pearl necklace and sparkling earrings, and explained how she danced to a live band for hours, surrounded by hopeful suitors. She said that it was one of the best nights of her life. Suddenly, Grandma’s story stopped and she looked across the table, silently staring, as if someone had entered unannounced. For a moment, I was scared, not understanding what was about to happen. Then, I heard the scratchy sound of grandma’s favorite record, a waltz, playing in the adjacent living room. Wordlessly, this wonderful woman rose from the table and curtsied to her unseen partner. She then gracefully reached out to take his hand and stepped into the living room. There, she nodded her head and began to waltz around the room in perfect three quarter time. A smile broke over her face and her eyes flashed with the love of a young girl seeing her future husband, face to face, for the very first time.
The arthritis that normally caused her so much pain bowed to a much greater force. That of memory, of love, and of faith. Grandma whirled and twirled around the room for what seemed like hours before the needle found the end of the record, leaving us all in stunned silence. I have never seen her more peaceful and content. For those precious moments, she was young again and full of life. Oblivious to our presence, Grandma Alice completed her dance with a gracious bow to her partner and then looked up to the ceiling, as if watching him ascend.
In that one final dance, I believe that the Lord graciously gave my beloved Grandma Alice a glimpse of eternity and of all the dances to come. I miss her dearly, but I was honored to witness such a marvelous event in her life.
If you are fortunate enough to still have members of the older generation in your life, make sure you are there for them. Soon, it will be time for their last dance and you don’t want to miss it.