Grammy and I sat in her tiny living room one day after a trip to the ‘Wal Marts’ where I had bought her a new dress (lavender with tiny white polka dots) and a new camera and some ‘films’. Grammy loved to take pictures and had photo albums bulging with family faces on Thanksgiving Day, some eyes closed in anticipation of the flash, random combinations of her seven children, nineteen grandchildren and twenty-four great-grandchildren vying for a spot on Aunt Cookie’s couch.
Shards of sunshine cut through the space between the sheer window curtains and landed on two ceramic chickens on the bottom shelf of Grammy’s bookcase. As Grammy flipped through her Bible, dog-eared creases, penciled notes in the margins, rocking chair swishing with the shifting of her weight, I watched as the chickens seemed to absorb the light and reflect it from within.
“Grammy, did you make those black and white chickens?” I asked, lazily pointing in their direction with my chin.
“No honey, Aunt Lu made those for me years ago. I think she took a class.”
“They’re cute,” I said, sliding off the couch and onto the floor to examine them closer. “It says: ‘LW 1961’ on the bottom. These are nearly as old as I am!”
“Yes honey, that sounds about right.” Grammy replied, still rocking and reading her Bible.
I liked their proud stance, and the cocky tilt of their heads. Turning them over and over in my hands, I imagined them coming to life and waking us up in the morning with hearty ‘cock-a-doodle-doos’. They spoke to the young woman in me who had made precious little with her own two hands. They also reminded me of the white poodle and the pair of kittens that used to grace the shelves of my childhood home. Mama had also taken a ceramics class.
“Well, seeing as how you like ‘em so much, you need to have ‘em for yourself,” Grammy said, no longer rocking. Now she sat still; clear, hazel eyes smiling at me, soft hands folded on her lap.
“No, no, you keep them and I’ll come and visit them every once in a while,” I said, turning to smile at the sweetest woman who ever lived. The woman who knew everyone’s birthday and anniversary by heart. The woman who never had a bad thing to say about anyone, ever. A simple woman of faith who raised seven children in a shack with no indoor plumbing and never once complained about anything.
“Well then, you can have ‘em after I’m gone,” she said, handing me a piece of paper. “Fold that up and stick it inside the bottom of one of them chickens, and they’ll be yours one of these days.”
I took the note from her and read the words she had written when I wasn’t watching. “These are for Vanessa Gay after I’m gone. Love, Grammy.” Simple. Sweet. Grammy.
I smiled up at her as I folded the piece of paper until it was small enough to be tucked inside the hollow opening underneath one of the chickens, put it back on the shelf and gave Grammy a kiss on her impossibly soft cheek, my nose detecting a hint of the Noxema she used daily.
We were blessed with our sweet Grammy for thirteen more years after that day. By the time she died, I had long forgotten about those black and white chickens and the secret message tucked inside. Aunt Lu took them home with her after helping clear out Grammy’s small house because she was the one who had made them 36 years earlier. We all took the things we had given her that we wanted as reminders of her precious presence. I have crooked photographs she took of me and my daughter with the camera I bought for her, and I have one of her sweet dresses (I don’t think Grammy ever wore pants a day in her life, just like she never drank a drop of alcohol or drove a car).
It would be another seventeen years before Aunt Lu discovered Grammy’s note inside one of those ceramic chickens. When she did, she felt terrible and gave them to my mom (Grammy’s middle daughter) the next time they were together. Finally, one day last summer, Mama brought them to me.
When I unrolled them from multiple layers of newspaper and held them in my hands the memory of that day so long ago came rushing back to me. Grammy’s hand-written note was not there and I wondered where it had gone. It would have been wonderful to have that precious artifact again, to stare at the now chipped and faded chickens from across the room, knowing that the piece of paper Grammy had written on back in 1983 was still hidden within. A secret treasure.
But I’m happy that the chickens are here with me now, and that Grammy’s wish for me to have them has finally been realized.
Rest in peace sweet Grammy, the chickens are home.