Love.

I turn 25 in 13 days. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned and what’s mattered most to me in those 25 years. It’s a pretty long list, but right now I mostly feel like I need to tell a story. About love – from the perspective I remember it.

I think a lot about my grandparents around my birthday. I was born on their anniversary – something I know was nothing short of divine intervention.

Papaw and Granny were married 52 years before he passed away. Fifty-two years. At this point, that amount of time is beyond my comprehension. That’s some people’s entire lifetimes. They got married in 1944 – when Granny was 14. There was a 20-year age difference between them. It looks weird on paper, I know – but 52 years. Granny practically raised her brother and sister and I think she figured if she was going to raise kids, they might as well be her own.

Granny and Papaw had four kids – three girls and my dad. They had their problems – most of which I’ve learned about as an adult. But 52 years. Papaw built their house – a little white house with a garden on one side and peach trees on the other. They lived in the garage while he built it. That was after he was a cook in the war – his pancake recipe is still regarded throughout the family as the best pancakes you’ll ever have. (There’s a secret ingredient, of course) He worked as a janitor. Granny was a nurse. They both worked so hard. Papaw saved everything – absolutely everything. There are still cans in the garage full of nuts and bolts that he just may have needed some day.

My favorite Papaw story is when he tried to trim tree branches in his 80s. The man climbed into a tree in his 80s to trim tree branches. Granny got worried and called my dad – and eventually the fire department came out, if memory serves me correct. Well, memory of the stories – I was too young to remember. But that’s not the story I’m telling.

I was born on their 46th anniversary – at 25 weeks. I don’t think anyone really knows what happened, just that it happened and I was born. My entire family will tell you the same thing – exactly two people were sure I was going to live. My Aunt Susie and Papaw.

Granny told him when they walked in the hospital not to fall in love with me. But he did, and he was sure. Everyone prayed for me. Strangers prayed for me. But I think Aunt Susie and Papaw being sure had a lot to do with me actually living. I’m still pretty stubborn, I guess.

Since I was so early and so little and possibly had things wrong with me, I wasn’t allowed to go to daycare for a few years. Granny and Papaw watched me for a few years while my parents worked. That little white house remains my favorite place in my mind – more so even than the house I grew up in. Their house held every family gathering we had. We all crowded in the living room to open presents on Christmas Eve while Papaw played Santa. I remember hiding in the back room while they hid Easter eggs.

I remember all of my memories more, though. The ones I got to myself. The kitchen was so small that only three sides were regularly used – the fourth side was pushed against the window. I liked to climb into that seat. I was surrounded by them on both sides and the wall on the other. It made me feel safe. I remember how they let me drink coffee with them – a healthy blend of cream and milk in my cup, of course. Papaw’s cookie jar was always filled with those mismatched sandwich cookies. I can see the pattern on the jar in my mind – I don’t know what happened to it, but if I could ever find it, I know it would be one of my most prized possessions. I still buy those cookies when I’m having a bad day. They’re my comfort food.

And Granny’s BB gun by the door. Because squirrels can’t ruin gardens and the neighborhood wasn’t great.

I remember Fridays at the beauty salon, filled with older women who spent every Friday morning there. I remember Ms. Vicky the hairdresser, who later kept school pictures of me next to her own kids at her booth. That’s how much time I spent there. 10 a.m. Every Friday.

The pictures from their 50th anniversary are the silliest. I tried to help them open their presents, and Granny let me sit there in her lap in so many of the pictures. I’ve always thought that was one of my favorite displays of love.

I had pneumonia when I was five. Papaw brought me a talking doll to the hospital. I thought he hung the moon. That was another one of my favorites.

Papaw died the next year. He was pretty sick before then – which is what happens when you’re 87. He couldn’t really remember anyone the last time I saw him in the hospital.

It’s almost been 20 years and I still cry about how much I miss him. A little bit because I don’t remember all that much, and sometimes because I don’t feel like that’s fair. But I know that’s how life goes.

Granny got remarried the next year to Jack – a boy she grew up with. They were married 11 years before she passed away. Jack adored Granny, and I think of him as my grandpa. Truthfully, I’ve known him longer than I knew Papaw. I feel blessed to have both of them. Their story is one of my favorites to tell about fate, and one I’d like to tell another day. It’s really a wonderful tale and I know they were meant to end up with one another.

But that’s another day.

Granny passed away my freshman year of college, in a rather painful display of things I don’t understand about life. I was angry for a really long time, but have since made some level of peace with deciding I’ll just never understand.

I was Granny’s favorite. She told me once. I guess grandparents aren’t supposed to have favorites, but Granny and I had a pretty special bond. She believe in me with so much of her heart, I still lean on that fact when I’m feeling less than confident. I think she truly thought I could do whatever I wanted with my life, and knew I would. She always reminded me to dream, and gave me so many opportunities to use my imagination – as many as she could come up with.

We also watched a lot of Petticoat Junction and Andy Griiffith. I was okay with that, too. TV Land was my favorite channel – well, and Nickelodeon.

I also remember the day she tuned my radio to the country station. It’s odd the things you do remember in life – “I think you’ll like this,” she said.

Sometimes I wonder if I like country music so much because she did. I’m not sure.

I learned so much about the human capacity for love because of the two of them – whether I remember every detail or not. They taught me the importance of family and faith.

Granny’s obituary said she was a dedicated, loving woman with a free spirit. I have no doubt she taught me how to dream big and follow them with my whole heart.

And how to love. They both did.

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