Lessons from the Porch Swing

I was 14 when Grandma passed away on that summer day in late August. We spent a few days at my grandparents house, and just got home when my Grandpap called. We assumed he called to make sure we got home safely. I remembered standing in the kitchen, looking at my Mom, as she heard the news. She told me what happened. I couldn’t believe it.

My Grandma was sitting on the porch swing when we left just a couple hours earlier. I realized I forgot my sunglasses and we were just streets away, so my Mom turned around to go back. She parked in the driveway, while I ran up to the house.

“What did you forget?”, Grandma called to me from the porch swing as I ran to the house. I told her I forgot my sunglasses, opened the screen door and ran into the kitchen where my sunglasses were sitting on the table. I grabbed them and ran back out the door, onto the porch, and down the steps.

“Bye, Grandma!” I yelled, looking back at her, waving as I ran to the car. She was sitting on the porch swing, enjoying the summer day. She smiled and waved back.

That was the last time I saw my Grandma.

Just a little while later, she was gone.

Thinking back, my last memory of Grandma sitting on that porch was fitting. Many an hour we spent together on that swing. When we visited my grandparents, my Mom spent time with my aunt and my brother played with our cousin. They lived right up the hill from my Grandma’s house. I usually chose to stay with Grandma.

Outside of winter months, Grandma sat on the porch swing and Grandpap sat on the glider on the other side of the porch that was hidden by tall trees. He usually faced the side street and napped a lot of the time, but Grandma quietly watched what was going on in her small piece of the world.

Grandma and I talked about anything and everything. I told her about school and my pets and anything else a young girl found interesting. Surely, it was not very exciting, but Grandma listened with her ears and her heart. She never made me feel like she didn’t want to hear what I had to say.  Grandma loved me. There was never a question.

We had a special relationship. I didn’t care what we did, I just wanted to spend time with her. I learned so much from her during those quiet times.  In 14 short years, as young as I was, that woman made a huge impact on my life; and to this day, I remember the lessons she taught me.

Sit and Be Still.

We sat on the porch swing for hours, swinging the days away. We watched the birds and the cars go by and we felt the summer breeze.  In the evenings, we watched the sky turn dark.  At night, we listened to the crickets and watched the lightning bugs. Never once was I bored or did I need something else to do.  Just being there was enough. Those were quiet times. We talked a lot but we sat a lot of time in silence, rocking and swinging, back and forth, taking in the day and our surroundings. In the winter, we spent hours at the kitchen table. Sometimes, Grandma played cards with Mom and my Aunt. Sometimes, we just sat in that kitchen talking, laughing, and eating maple sweet rolls.

Today, I would give anything for another day on that porch.  Today, we were always running, always on a schedule, always crossing off a list of things to do. Most houses in my neighborhood didn’t even have a front porch, but decks on the back.  No one was interested in watching the day go by like that anymore. It was something people didn’t do much anymore.

Times were different for sure; but life was so much less complicated back then. I longed for those days. I wished my kids experienced those slow, easy days I had as a child.  Over the last few years, I made changes in my life and adjusted my priorities to simplify my life; but it was a constant struggle. This world was not what it used to be.

Be content. 

Grandma went to the grocery store and occasionally to the mall, but she was content to stay home. Everything she needed was there.  She had furniture that served a purpose, not that made a statement. She had clothes that kept her warm, not that were meant to impress.  She had a house that she made a home, not a showplace.

Today, we had so many ‘things’ and ‘wants’. The grocery stores were stocked with 50 different types of cereal and there were 50 different clothing stores at the mall. Furniture was stylish, not purposeful. Our homes overflowed with more things that we could ever use and we wanted more. Our kids had more growing up than our parents did when they first got married, and they still weren’t content.

Grandma didn’t care much for ‘things she didn’t need. She always gave away stuff.  I treasured the things she gave me. I had an old perfume bottle from Avon that Grandma had on her dresser. She asked Mom to paint it. I still had it. It wasn’t worth much, but it was hers, and I loved it. Today, people had so many “things”, but few of those “things” that were special. In this throw away society, very little was “special” anymore.

Embrace the lemons in your life.

My Grandma was put on a salt-restrictive diet due to high blood pressure and heart issues. She eliminated the salt but it was hard. Someone suggested to her that she use lemons to add flavor and to satisfy cravings.  She didn’t just add a little lemon wedge to her water, she ate the whole lemon. One of my fondest memories was Grandma walking around in her housecoat with a lemon and a pairing knife in her pocket at any given time. She sat on the porch swing, cut her lemons and ate them, piece by piece.

Today, when something was difficult, we complained and whined and cried how unfair it was. Today, we couldn’t handle change and made a big deal about it. We pouted and grimaced and felt sorry for ourselves. Grandma dealt with it, and made the best of any situation.

We needed more of that today. Yes, things were hard. Yes, things were unfair. But we chose how to react to it. Whenever I thought about life giving me lemons, I didn’t think about lemonade. I thought about those whole lemons in my Grandma’s pockets. Sometimes, we had to eat the lemons life threw at us, and deal with whatever came our way. Grandma took those lemons on in a fierce way, and I liked to think I did the same.

Love knew no limits.

Grandma and Grandpap didn’t always get along, In fact, they were pretty irritated with each other most of the time.  I remembered so many summer days sitting on the swing with Grandma, as Grandpap stretched out on the glider on the other side of the porch.  They had a huge porch that ran the length of the house (at least it felt huge to me as a child). Grandma was mad at him for whatever reason, and started complaining loudly about him. Grandpap didn’t say a word. He sat there letting her talk. Once in a while, he told her she didn’t know what she was talking about, but that only made her mad. One day, I asked Grandma why she was always so angry at Grandpap.  She told me in no uncertain terms that she loved Grandpap very much. Then she said, she ‘wouldn’t pay a nickel for another one like Grandpap, but she wouldn’t take a million dollars for the one she had”. She couldn’t stand him sometimes, but she loved him. She had funny ways of showing it though. I remembered one time Grandma told me she was going to find out who Grandpap voted for, and then go to the polls and cancel out his vote. She was something else.

Grandma loved Grandpap. My grandparents had more than their fair share of hard times; but they weathered them together. They never gave up on each other. That was not an option.  Even when they acted like they hated each other, I knew they loved each other very much, even as young as I was.

Today, people threw in the towel so easily. Today, most couples wouldn’t survive the hardships my grandparents faced – poverty, wartime, military deployment, health issues. Today, any one of the situations they faced ripped families apart.  They bickered and complained. As much as she went on and on about everything he did; she would have done anything for him, just as she would have done anything for us. She loved her family.  She loved with her whole heart. There was no time limit or stipulation.

Look for the little things. 

Grandma loved yard sales. She didn’t go to find big items. She usually found little things that caught her eye, and she usually gave those things to other people. We used to go for walks around her neighborhood. I loved walking with my Grandma. She never got tired.  We walked at her pace and we walked a long way.  We walked and talked and she told me stories about the places we passed and about things she did when she was young. Oh, how I wished I could remember all of the things she told me and I wished I wrote them down back then.

When we went for walks, she pointed out the flowers in neighbors’ yards or picked up stones we found along the road. Grandma looked for the simple beauty in things around her. We never went further than a half mile from her house, and she lived in that town her whole life; yet still, she found treasures along the way every time.

Today, people went through life at such a fast pace, they had no time to look for the little things. People were too hurried to notice the neighbor’s pink tulips or the shiny stone on the side of the road. Grandma did, and she taught me to do the same.

I loved my Grandma very much. It had been over 30 years since she passed away, but even in the short time I was blessed to spend with her, she made a huge impact on me.

I missed her laugh.

I missed her smile.

I missed her talks.

I missed the time with her on the porch and at her kitchen table.

I missed her grumbling about Grandpap.

I missed going for walks with her.

I missed the lemons in her pockets.

She was very special to me, and her memory still lived inside my heart.

Lately, I felt overwhelmed. There was always SO much on my plate, in my heart, and in my head; and I felt the walls caving in sometimes. It was just too much. During those moments when the pressure was on, the days were hectic, and the ‘to do’ list was too long; I thought about my Grandma and the lessons she taught me. I thought about simpler times.

I closed my eyes and thought about those lazy summer days on Grandma’s porch…

and if I closed them long enough …

I felt the gentle summer breeze on my face, heard the swing chains rhythmically creaking, and smelled the familiar and comforting scent of lemons.

The stress and the pressure subside, if only for a little while.

I love and miss you, Grandma.

20181105_140459_resized
The perfume bottle that sat on my grandmother’s dresser that my Mom painted.      It still has perfume in it.

 

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I wrote this poem when I was 14 for my grandmother. It is very simple and child-like, but it captures the emotions of my heart back then. I wrote it in calligraphy and put in a frame where it was displayed for years in my childhood bedroom.

 

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A picture of Grandma. Alice Virginia Swaney (1926-1987). I am not sure about the date of this picture, but I am guessing she was in her 20’s. She was beautiful.
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This is a picture of my Grandma, as I knew her.  She was always beautiful to me. Miss her dearly.

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

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