She sat curled up in the gold brocade wing chair, tiny feet tucked up under her like a little girl. You could see that she was tired, the usual spark in her eyes a dull glow. But you could feel her contentment. It wrapped around you like a warm blanket. It had been a big day for her. One hundred and ninety-eight, out of two hundred and twenty. That’s how many members of her family had been at the reunion. Gan was always happiest when surrounded by family. Today she had been the kid let loose in a toy store.
We had all been there that afternoon: three children, their spouses, four grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brother and sisters. We had come from across the country to be with her on this day. I held her soft hand in mine, as I would have held my son’s hand, to keep her safe, to keep her grounded. I was half-afraid she would float away. Grace Cecile, the daughter of her oldest sister Stella Marie, announced her as one of the surviving sisters. Letting go of my hand, she pranced across the floor to the podium, her arms waving above her head like a cheerleader leading out the champion football team. Even her pink knit pantsuit looked like a cheerleader’s warm ups. Watching, you would have thought she was 15, but the gray hair told you differently. It had been 70 years since she had led out a football team. She’d spent her time cheering us on since then.
She stood in the center, as a group picture was taken, dwarfed by her 11 year old grandsons, arms entwined with theirs. At five foot nothing and 95 pounds, she was physically the tiniest member of her family now. In heart and spirit, she remained the biggest. Everyone looked to her in times of trouble. In good times, she was the first everyone called. We shared our joys and our sorrows with her for she could be counted on to cheer us. Just the sound of her Louisiana drawl lifted our spirits and expanded our joy. Because she gave us so much joy, we did everything we could to bring her happiness.
Gently, I urged her to go to bed in her room. She insisted that she would sleep on the pull out chair, and that we should have her room. She would let us help pull out the mattress and make up the bed, however. Stubborn. And as usual, thinking of our comfort not hers. She may have looked like a gray haired little girl, but Gan was definitely the mother in this family.