“The literary equivalent of a summer night, a good friend and a gin-and-tonic: Shannon is a deft writer; a natural storyteller with a wicked turn of phrase and frighteningly specific memory...”

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A Letter To One Of My Greatest Loves

Tomorrow I’m attending my 99-year old grandma’s memorial service in Santa Barbara. She is one of my greatest loves, so I decided to repost my love letter to her:

My grandma Ellen turned 99 today, July 2nd 2012. She was born in Wakeeny, Kansas, Trego County, July 2, 1913.

We celebrated with wine and cake. I lay in bed with her last night holding her birdlike, blue-veined, sun-spotted hand, the one that milked cows on her family farm of a bone-chilling November morn circa 1920.The one that held her mother close after her father made the morning coffee then ended his life with a shotgun to the head in their barn in 1932.The one that bore my grandpa Maurice’s wedding band on her ring finger in May of 1934.

The one that swaddled my infant mother in September of 1941, just three months before America and her husband went to war.

The one that helped me catch my first Bluegill at Cachuma Lake in the summer of ’70 at the tender, bloodthirsty age of 5.

The hand that was there to hold mine through my parents’ divorce and their remarriages, some for better, some for worse.

The hand that stroked my hot, sunburned 6, then 7, then 12-year-old brow as she whispered the Lord’s Prayer in my ear at bedtime in her house on the frog-symphony creek. Her God is the only one I’ve ever fully known.

She’s tiny as a child now. Her mind works in a circular pattern, the neuron pathways in her brain iterating the same frustrating ritual over and over again.  “I need to get dressed.”  “Grandma, it’s 4:30 a.m.”  “I need to get dressed.” “Grandma, it’s 5 a.m.” “I need to get dressed.” “Yes, I’ll dress you.” “What time is it?” “5:30 a.m.” “That can’t be right.” “Your microwave clock says so.” “Oh.”

Then, just when I’m mentally checking out, she surprises me by singing an old Gogi Grant folk song I’ve never heard her sing before even though we’ve tended many a campfire together in my 47 years. Even though her third and best and last husband, Ned “Rusty”Allred was a cowboy who worked the last cattle drive from Utah into California during the days of the open range.

Her tremulous voice rises to meet the tune:

The wayward wind is a restless wind

A restless wind that yearns to wander

And he was born the next of kin

The next of kin to the wayward wind

In a lonely shack of a railroad track

He spent his younger days

And I guess the sound of the outward-bound

made him a slave to his wander’n ways

Oh I met him there in a border town

He vowed we’d never part

Though he tried his best to settle down

I’m now alone with a broken heart

And the wayward wind is a restless wind

A restless wind that yearns to wander

And he was born the next of kin

The next of kin to the wayward wind.

My grandma’s singing voice is imbued with a mournful beauty. She sings me through the Kansan Dust Bowl, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, her father’s suicide, the many roads she’s ventured down throughout This Land and sits me down at the troubled knee of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. She and I have traveled “a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, Lord I’m one hundred miles away from home.” Together.

She is my touchstone. My angel. My Northern Star. The blood from Bohemia, Czechslovakia that sings in me. I don’t fully know it now – because you have always been there – but I will miss you, I will miss you, I will miss you when you’re gone.


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  1. dusty earth mother
    dusty earth mother 2 November, 2012, 16:32

    I’m so sorry for your loss, lovely one. xxoo

    Reply this comment
  2. Lady Jennie
    Lady Jennie 3 November, 2012, 04:17

    This is beautifully written and so poignant. She is beautiful, and yes – I see the resemblance.

    Reply this comment
  3. B.
    B. 3 November, 2012, 06:42

    I am a lurker, and everytime I read this it brings me to tears. it is so beautifully written…

    my grandma has parkinson’s and the more we go on in life, the bigger signs of it I see.

    to imagine the life she has lived is amazing, and I love the stories she tells me.

    I know one day I won’t be able to hear them anymore, so I try and enjoy it while I can. losing her is one of my biggest fears.

    your grandma lived such a long, amazing life. what a wonderful woman

    Reply this comment
  4. Girl to Mom- Heidi
    Girl to Mom- Heidi 3 November, 2012, 07:40

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Shannon. Did you know I’m from Hays, Kansas and my father was the head of the drama department, professor at Fort Hays University for 30 years? Hays is my home town and like your grandmother, my Dad also committed suicide. Small world.

    Love to you and your family.

    Reply this comment
  5. Jodie Barringer Myers
    Jodie Barringer Myers 4 November, 2012, 09:35

    Beautiful, beautiful tribute to your grandmother.

    BTW, I’m a devout blog sleuther, and your writing/style is superior to all. Seriously…

    Keep on keepin’ on.

    Reply this comment
  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer 5 November, 2012, 10:15

    So sweet. You were (or are- I think grannies come around now & again for a visit♥) lucky to have each other.

    Reply this comment
  7. Carol D
    Carol D 5 November, 2012, 11:28

    Now that I’m a granny (yes, I know, I’m only 52) I can only hope that my granddaughter some day will feel the love like you did from your granny.

    Reply this comment
  8. Caryl
    Caryl 8 November, 2012, 17:10

    What a great tribute to your grandma.

    Reply this comment

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