I just called Baby. I call her every year on February 22nd. It’s the day that her husband, my grandfather, chose to end his life.
She wasn’t at home which isn’t unusual. She has more of a social life than I could ever hope to have. I left her a message. Hey Baby, it’s February 22nd, and I’m calling to tell you that in an hour when it’s 5:00, I’ll be raising my glass of bubbles to you and my Granddaddy because I love and miss you both.
Baby and I are connected at the heart, not by blood. We’ve decided that in some ways that’s even better.
Her name isn’t actually Baby. Her name is Beverley. When I was young, she and my grandfather came to visit. It’s the first time I remember meeting her. I was old enough to feel awkwardness, but young enough that the grownups assumed I didn’t.
She gave me a white stuffed bear. Together, all the awkward grownups and I, decided to name the bear Beverley Bear, since it was from Beverley. My dad piped up, You could call it BB for short.
I looked up at Beverley. Maybe I could call you BB too.
All the grownups seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. It was settled. The step-grandmother had a name, and it was tender enough to honor the position she had in my life, but not grandmother-ly enough to step on the toes of my mom’s mother, who was still alive at the time.
Visits increased, awkwardness decreased. Many of my childhood memories are in the home she and my grandfather shared during their marriage. They lived in an island town in South Carolina. We crabbed all day, danced to beach music in the evenings. The grownups sipped wine, the kids stuffed their faces with pimento cheese. The house echoed with the booming laugh of my grandfather. After supper, my brother and I loaded up into the back of his truck, and he’d sneak us away for a scoop of ice cream.
Last summer, we were back at that beach for a family vacation. BB, who now lives in the Upstate, came down to the beach for a few nights to see us. Awkwardness long gone, BB is a part of us, and we’re a part of her. As she gave my middle son a birthday present, he looked at her with his long eyelashes and curly hair and said, Oh thank you, Baby, I love it. BB had become Baby. The step-grandmother name had morphed into the name of a beloved great-grandmother, connected at the heart, not by blood.
Today when I left Baby the message, I teared up. I never cry on February 22nd, but today I realized that I’ve known Baby, my heart grandmother, longer than I knew my grandfather. He died when I was fifteen, seventeen years ago.
A long time ago, he gave our family a gift. He gave us Baby. Tonight, I raise my glass of to my Granddaddy and to Baby. How I love them both.