The woman who was Florence

A few nights ago, in the midst of writer’s block, I pulled two books from the bookcase on “things to write about.”
I opened a section and read the first thing I saw.
“You’ve long suspected that your best friend is a CIA operative. Now your child is in danger overseas, and you need help.”
Not touching that one.
“Your cat (or dog) has a Twitter feed. What are its first three tweets?”
Flat stare. Try again.
“One of your grandparents teaches you something important.” Bingo!
Then I stumbled on a handwritten note dated July 7, 2006 that I had penned after tending to my grandmother’s farmhouse a few months after she had died, and in preparation for the new owner, who was I.
She was 91. The house was virtually untouched—dressers full, cupboards tipping with dishes, clothing in closets. . . .
“I had decided when I got there that I didn’t want any music playing because I wanted to ‘feel’ the house,” I wrote. “I didn’t want to be interrupted in my ‘feeling’ by a song, a commercial, or the news.
“Cleaning out a kitchen drawer, I found a thin, white triangle of flour sack similar to one I’d seen in an old picture of Grandma standing between two horses at age 18, with her head wrapped in this white thing.
“I went into the bedroom, stood in front of her dresser mirror, wrapped the white sack around my head, tied it, and tucked in the pointy part at the back. And then I started sorting. . . .
“I think I knew my grandmother pretty well, but I learned some things I didn’t know about her that day. It’s a different thing when someone passes away and you have to clean stuff out.
“You learn in a way that you wouldn’t have known sitting around the kitchen table sharing coffee or tea or lunch. You learn what really was important to them by the things they kept.
“God was really important to Grandma. We all knew that. But cleaning out her dresser, the depth of devotion was crystal clear. It was amazing in the long, handwritten verses she’d penned from the Bible to religious poetry to pages of prayers.
“There was a little shoebox stuffed with old photographs, letters, certificates from 1924, having had perfect attendance at Sunday School, and first-place ribbons from the World Fair in 1932, as well as a trunk with every greeting card I think she’d ever received.
“I found enough knitting needles to start a small army on the road to knitting a nation.
“We all have these truths that we live by. Our word, our manner, our beliefs, but I don’t know that I ever will be able to explain how the important parts of my grandma’s life fit into a little box and the simplicity she lived by.
“No rough edges, no cracks.
“Whatever life challenges she had, she never strayed out of those beliefs. Never swayed in her faith. Never used life’s difficulties as an excuse for sloughing off on anything.
“The rules she set for herself were lifelong.
“I think of the times when I’m having struggles in my life and I am searching. I know where I can go now and won’t ever have to leave.
“Any answers I seek will be right here at home.”

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