my grandmother has always said grace at each of our feast-centered family holiday functions, namely thanksgiving and christmas. lots have changed since the first time i can remember standing around a dining table holding hands with relatives while my granny prayed. that circle of bowed heads and held hands has gotten increasingly smaller each year—i lost great-uncles to old age, lost young cousins to suicide, lost siblings to new families of their own. c’est la vie, i guess. and some has changed about my grandmother as well, of course—she sits and delivers grace now that she can’t stand for very long anymore; you have to strain to hear her clearly and strain even harder to make out the words she says thanks to her twisted esophagus, which she got thanks to the last stroke she had.
but what has never changed is the aria in her voice, the poetry in her tongue, the way she almost seems to become another person once her head is bowed, a stark contrast from the woman who used to pull my teeth by hand, cut callouses from her feet with butcher knives, and peel mice from glue traps without wincing. her accent, rough-edged and thick, is still there, but she fragile, she is delicate, she is crystal that you are afraid will crack beneath the weight of her pleading, the tide of tears threatening the corners of her eyes. she is swaddled in her Sunday best, reams of pastel humility and the deep blue of her earnestness, reserved for the only thing fully deserving—her God, her Heavenly Father, the only one who can save her soul and provide for her children once she is gone. when she prays, you become voyeur, bearing witness to a desperate bargain: if you spare me, if you have mercy on my children…
when she prays, i hold my breath and breathe my own thanks when she pauses. thank you, whoever you are, for another year with her; thank you for another chance to be serenaded, even through slurred tongue and impeded mouth, by the heart of a woman fighting and loving in the same breath.
last year, i got the idea to record my grandmother as she said grace, but i got the idea too late. this year, i came to the table prepared and was able to capture her on my iphone. i wanted to share the audio here; i know it may be hard to make our the words, so have transcribed her prayer below.
father, we thank thee for another thanksgiving holiday.
thank you for all the blessings that thou hast bestowed upon us
through days have passed and gone
father, we know thee
and we love thee
with all our hearts
grant unto us such things as we stand in need of
grant unto us the things that thou would have us do and to go
go with us, stand by us,
and when comes our time,
give us a home in thy blessed kingdom
for we give thee the praises forever and ever