Forgotten Valentine Category


CupidI walked down the school-house road from Lavista to Morgan Road. I was on the way home after school from Tucker Elementary. I stopped just before reaching my backyard. I slipped into the woods. I knew where a beautiful magnolia tree was hidden away. Of course, I was disobeying Mama. According to her, I was to go straight home from school and stay out of those woods, but today I had an emergency. Today was February 15. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and I had forgotten to give my great-grandmother a valentine.

My older sister, Patricia, made Granny a valentine heart out of red construction paper with beautiful white paper lace all around it. Even my four year old sister, Barbara, colored a page in her coloring book and gave it to Granny. And so many came, Granny had more friends than anyone else I knew. They all came with gifts, flowers, boxes of candy and cards. I would have to make up my over-sight by giving her a special valentine, one that no one else had thought of.

I reached high and picked the most perfect magnolia leaf I could find. I found a patch of dried wild flowers. I used a sharp stick to punch tiny holes in the magnolia leaf. I then carefully inserted the tiny stems of the wildflowers into the leaf and twisted the stems together to hold the flowers in place. It was beautiful! Wait until Granny sees this! She will probably forget all about her other gifts. I know what pleases her and its nature, things that “get here naturally – from the good Lord.” Now I had the perfect gift and had to hurry home. Hopefully, Mama would be too busy getting supper ready to notice I was late.

I ran up the steps to my front door and immediately knew something was different today. The house was full of relatives, friends and our Morgan Road neighbors. They were busy cleaning and bringing in food and flowers. Instead of playing with me, my teenaged cousin, Rachel, was busy making note of the deliveries. Her older sister, Frances, was busy organizing the food in the kitchen. Another teenaged cousin, Pheobe, was taking notes at the phone. No one noticed me as I walked around trying to figure out what was going on. I was thankful that I was not in trouble, but at the same time a bit confused.

I knew my Granny would know, so I ran into her bedroom. She wasn’t there and neither was her bed. How strange. My older sister, Patricia, walked in to the room and was just as confused.

“Where have you been?” asked Patricia.

Before I could answer, Mama appeared and took us by the hands and walked us down the hall to her bedroom. She quietly knelt down to look into our faces. I noticed her eyes were red from crying. “Granny has gone to Heaven – to live with Jesus.”

“Why Mom, why?” asked Patricia.

“Because – she was very old and tired, Granny was eighty-seven years old. Now she can walk without a cane. Her back is no longer bent. She lived a good and full life here with us, now it’s time for her to live in Heaven.”

Patricia and I silently accepted her explanation. Mama hugged us hard, kissed the tops of our heads, and returned to her busy guests. I turned to my sister and I was outraged. “What does she mean? Granny was tired? She didn’t mind her cane. We took care of her and she liked it here! She didn’t want to go live with Jesus! Granny didn’t want to go there! I know it! I just know it.”

“You’d better be quiet! Don’t say that, especially in front of Mom or Daddy! Or you’ll be in trouble again.”

Of course, I knew better, that’s why I held my tongue in front of Mama. Even a six year old knows that. But I don’t think Mama believed her own story. I could tell by the hurt look in her eyes, and the sadness in her face. Daddy probably didn’t believe it either. His electric saws and guitar were silent today. He took the day off and it wasn’t even raining, I suppose to be near Mama.

Some people stayed all night. The next morning was eerily quiet, and every so often someone peeped out the window. Then one time, my Aunt Miriam said, “They’re here, little brother, go to Helen.” Daddy hung up the phone without saying good-bye and went to Mama. What in the world is going on?

An ambulance backed up the drive-way, and a long silver box was carefully brought into the house. They placed it gingerly on a stand up against the front living room windows. Then they placed big flower arrangements all about the room. A man dressed in a black suit opened the box. There lay my Granny. She was sleeping peacefully in a fancy lavender silk dress. She was beautiful, but lifeless. Everyone was sad, they cried quietly. I heard Mama tell my PawPaw how she found Granny.

“Daddy, it was getting late in the morning, and I checked in on her to see why she didn’t ring her bell. I thought she was sleeping late, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I peeped in and called out to her. She didn’t answer. I got a little closer and could see a smile on her face. I teased her for teasing me. But she still didn’t answer. I looked closer and – and – she was gone.” Mama cried a little bit as her father comforted her with a hug. “I’m alright, Daddy, I just have to tell you this. Granny had the most beautiful smile on her face and I wondered why. Then I looked around, and realized she was surrounded by hearts, candy, flowers – all gifts that said ‘I love you.’ She must have gone to sleep thinking about how much she was loved. I believe she was happy and at peace when the angels took her. Oh Daddy, I wish you could have seen her face.”

“She was happy here with you and Tom. Y’all were good to Mama,” answered PawPaw.

Mary Emma Jane Palmer-Voyles

Mary Emma Jane Palmer-Voyles

“And the girls, she loved those girls, and loved being in a home with so much going on,” added Aunt Irene, PawPaw’s sister.

Then I began to see magic happen. Every time someone spoke of Granny, their sad face was replaced by a smile. I even heard something I had not heard in two days, laughter.

“Hearts, candy, flowers and angels – what’s not to smile about?” mused Aunt Irene.

“Emma Voyles had all her marbles to the very end,” added Dr. Holbrook, a frequent visitor of Granny.

“She could look at a plant and tell me what the soil needed,” proudly smiled PawPaw, “and taught me how to graft plants together to get different colored blooms.”

“Wade, don’t forget your mother understood the medicinal components of herbs and plants. She was a wise woman, indeed,” said Dr. Holbrook, “I’ll miss our little talks. Yes, sir, I’ll miss Emma Voyles!”

“I miss her already,” said my PawPaw.

So many people came to the house that day, even the new neighbors who had just moved in across the road. They were Clarence and Frances Williams. Rachel asked them to come in and meet the family, but they refused. “We just want to drop off this casserole for the family,” said Frances.

“We’ll come back when we hear the guitar music again, but not today,” said
Clarence.

And the people and the flowers kept coming.

I had held on to my magnolia flower for Granny until now. I decided to take it to her bedroom and place it on her night-table, away from all the other flowers. As always, Patricia joined me. We stood together looking out Granny’s window. We didn’t say anything to each other for a good long while. As I looked down at my falling apart valentine, I realized Granny would never receive my gift. I knew I would never see Granny open her eyes, nor feel her gentle touch again. I knew she would no longer ask me to thread her needle so she could sew her quilts. I would never again hear her say, “Diane, you have keen eyes.”  I promised Patricia and myself that I would never forget again. Then it was Patricia’s turn to speak.

“Don’t ever put me in a box,” my eight year old sister said as she finally broke her silence. “When I die, put me in the top of the trees, like the Plains Indian stories Aunt Irene and Granny told us about. Put me way up – facing the clouds – so I can feel the wind on my face. Promise me Sister, promise me – never let them put me in a box.”

“I promise.”

“You won’t forget?”

“I’ll never forget.”

On many occasions – for many years – Patricia, reminded me of my promise.

“Sister, that was years ago. I was only six years old. I didn’t know about burial laws back then. I cannot put you up in a tree when you die. It’s against the law.”

“You promised, and a promise is a promise. I will not be put in a box and buried in the ground.”

“You’re being unreasonable. We are grown women now. I’ll just have to die first to get out of it.”
“Oh no, don’t ever do that! Just make sure I’m up in the trees where I can feel the sun and wind on my face – like the Plains Indians. You’ll have to find a way to keep your promise to me. You’ll think of something – you always do.”

This became a private little conversation between my sister and me, one we would have often.

“Maybe we can die together, you know, like in a car accident…”
“Oh, good heavens, no! You promised to put me up in a tree, and that’s that.”

And then on a cold January day of nineteen-ninety three, Patricia and I had this conversation.

“Di, do you remember your promise?”

“Oh dear God, please let’s not talk about that now. I can’t bear it, not today.”

“We need to talk about it today,” Patricia went on firmly, “You don’t have to put me up in a tree.”

“I don’t? Are you sure?”

She looked back toward a funeral tent. Her gaze fell on a flower covered grave, “I can be buried in a box in the ground – if I’m buried there – near my son.”

We stood there dressed in our mourning clothes and were silent for a good long while, just like on that cold February day looking out of the window in Granny’s bedroom. And again, I spoke first.

“Promise.”

“You won’t forget?”

“I’ll never forget.”

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