Out of the blue a few weeks ago, I found myself looking up the lyrics for a lullaby in the middle of the night. I was singing it to myself as I was trying to fall asleep and realized I couldn’t remember all the words. I also realized I was hearing it in my grandma’s voice. Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. I knew that night I needed to write about my grandma. I knew that her health was fading faster, but I didn’t know how soon we’d say goodbye.
It has been hard to think about putting into words what life with Ilene was like. She could be a whirlwind. But for us grandkids, she was pure magic. If that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. Singing the only lines I could remember, I was back on the living room floor in that small brick house, on a hot summer night with the others. The main door pushed wide open to let the breeze through the screen door. I swear she didn’t sleep when we were there, she just watched over us with the quiet lull of traffic on 700 East in the background.
Ilene was a lot of things. Daughter. Sister. Wife. Mother. Friend. Beehive hair stylist for the neighborhood girls. Wedding cake maker. Babysitter. But, I dare say, she loved her role as grandma most. If there’s anything I can share with you about her, it’s that. We crafted, we laughed, we baked, we learned important life lessons. I mean, everyone knows why we don’t put fingers in stand mixers. And if you don’t, I’ll tell you all about it later.
I don’t think she liked anything more than having her house full of grandkids. Except, maybe, letting us break the rules. She always joked I was her favorite, but I know she couldn’t say no to any of us. That was the same for the younger set of grandkids, and the great grands that eventually came along. Everyone was the favorite when you were with her.
Ilene knew she was fallible, and she allowed us kids to be as well when we were around her. Perfect wasn’t necessary, you could be yourself. I wanted to be a little grownup, and she encouraged that in me. Kendall and David wanted to be their version of rebels, with gully runs and tadpoles, and she encouraged that too.
She never wanted to fit you into a box like a perfect crayon. You could be messy and wild, steal frosting from the fridge, and run through the neighborhood without your shoes on, and she’d love every minute of it. And at the end of the night, she’d make you up a makeshift bed, and if you were lucky, she’d whisper-sing a few lullabies while you fell asleep.