Out-twinkling the angels (Just Write)

Dani, you never met my Grandma, your Nana's mama. You were still growing in my belly when we hugged her last in the shadeless Palm Desert heat. But really, it's not accurate to say we hugged Grandma. Rather, she hugged us. She could squeeze so much love into a single embrace. There wasn't anything frail about her.

She wasn't the sort of grandma who went to the salon each week to set her hair. She was the feisty sort, the one who never wore a skirt, not even to church. (But you'd love her anyway, Dani, I know you would.) I'll picture her forever in a mid-80s puffed-sleeved sweat suit, her black hair ever short in tight wiry curls. She wore freckled skin, just like you and me; and her eyes could out-twinkle Santa's.

She knew what it meant to love people exactly where they were, without demands. She didn't make them move an inch to meet her, no probationary period required. She lived with her arms wide open, reckless with compassion. I've only recently come to understand how much courage it takes to live the way she did--to give the benefit of the doubt so freely, to throw every chip in every time, to love "all in". But I doubt she would've called it courage. She would have tossed up her hands and shook her grinning head side to side and quipped, "I guess your grandma's just crazy that way!"

Speaking of crazy, I should tell you about the time she took my mom, my sister and me to Yosemite. I can't remember how old I was, maybe 10? Anyway, it was snowing up a storm that day, and there was talk of closing the park. But we were halfway from Fresno to the park entrance before we got the warning, and she wasn't the sort to turn back on account of a little precipitation. When the sign popped up requiring chains for further travel, Grandma simply put on the chains, and on we went. We made it into the park just before they closed the roads into the valley. I clutched the inside of the car door and held my breath in fear as we slid and skidded down that steep, switchback of a road. I can't imagine how she even saw the road in front of her with the snow so thick in the air.

We passed one car hanging off the side of a cliff, another wedged into the side of the mountain. When we finally (miraculously) reached the valley, we nearly fell out of the car in relief. We walked a few steps in the direction of Half Dome, stretched our arms wide, threw our heads back and looked at the sky in every direction, watched as Mother Nature sewed the thickest, most spotless quilt of snow a mountain range could wear. Never have I felt a stronger sense of awe and wonder than in that moment, on that day when Grandma and I stood in that silent valley and looked up.

For 88 years Grandma lived this way, undaunted by treacherous roads, unhindered by convention, always looking up. She died this morning, "born into glory", as we crazy Christians like to say. And I'll tell you, Dani, these are the days when I'm never so glad to believe in heaven. I picture Grandma there now--still in her 1985 jogging suit--laughing her belly laugh, hugging anyone who comes within three feet of her, out-twinkling the angels.

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