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The Phoenix

A True Story

By Brynne NelsonPublished 3 years ago 4 min read

Dear Grandma,

When you were a teenager, your house burned to the ground. And in the midst of the inferno, in the hot, bright chaos, you struggled to pull your unconscious mother to safety, such as it was. And then, with courage that I can only attribute to your inner light, you ran back into the flaming building to save a baby brother—step-brother—who would never fulfill all of your hope for him. Your mother died anyway, died within days from the poison of smoke from a fire that you did not start. That you should not have paid for. Your step dad sent you to live with your father, your father who believed that children should be seen and not heard. You must have been–oh!–so very alone.

But you are a phoenix. You figuratively rose from literal ashes, grew and changed, continued on. Did you know? Did you know that lives—unborn lives, lives that would spring, one day, from you—depended on your choices? Did you know that we were waiting, that in you was the fiery spark of creation? My friend, my beloved grandmother, did you know that there was hope?

You left the church you’d known, joined one that brought, along with a dancing light, a certain grief. You were persecuted for your beliefs. There was mockery; there always was. It was metaphorical fire, this time, emotional torches accented by counterpart pitchforks. You held your head high, kept your breath strong, and soldiered forward. You fought the good fight in the name of Christ, and maybe—just maybe—in the name of all of us who stood just on the other side. Waiting.

You met a man. You fell in love. The heat this time was not danger, but passion, genuine affection, a roaring bonfire of emotion and trust. But for all that Grandpa was a wonderful man, he did not bring easiness. He was born with cerebral palsy; later there was the diabetes. Signing on as his wife meant signing on as his caretaker, too. Those of us who had not yet come to Earth must have danced for joy, though I cannot recall the steps—we must have celebrated, wanted to embrace you, for your courage. Your courage and your love.

Were you waiting for us? Did you wonder when we would come—if we would come? Certainly there must have been fear after your first child, your beautiful son, emerged white and still and without a cry. Surely the flame in your heart must have dimmed to a flicker. In a time when fathers were not permitted in delivery rooms, how did you bear up, knowing that you’d never meet that boy in this life? You buried him, couldn’t bear to give his empty body to the flames, and you carried on, moved forward. Tried again.

You worked. You worked so hard; you burned, as they say, both ends of the candle. You raised two healthy, brilliant children, you tended to your husband, you reliably held a job. I never realized how that must have burned you out before I became a mother and a wife. You bore up, and knowing you, it was largely without complaint.

Your daughter left the church you loved, leaving a scorch mark on your tender heart. She left the faith behind, married to a man that I never once heard you insult, even though anyone could see that he was not the best choice out there. He was loved by your daughter, your grandchildren, and so there was loyalty there. Even when they divorced, your kindness remained.

In your time, between putting out personal fires, you watched the world burn. Between 1935 and today, there have been thousands—millions—of disasters raging across the news. But you never gave in to despair. You never broke, even when war and hardship were slipped in with cereal and milk, even when the scent of destruction wafted in on the California breeze like smoke.

Grandpa got old, his life burned up; death has separated you from him for the years when you have lived as a widow. I cannot imagine the loneliness of that time. You were alone so often, except for the dogs. And then the dogs had the audacity to die, too, some of them in horrible ways that you alone had to witness. You had to put them down, rather than let them suffer more; you had to choose to let them die.

And now, finally, as you approach 90 years of life, your body is failing. I see it. I see you tired, so tired, and worn. You are a long, beautiful fuse that has nearly burned its last. But you are still so strong. Still my role model in many ways. Still my friend, though I am 58 years your junior. Anything you can do for me, for any of those you love, you do—and with a fierce, fiery passion.

And so, in so many ways, you are still running into that burning building. You never stopped being brave; you never stopped being kind. You let the fires of your life soften you, light you, teach you, and give to you the gifts of loyalty and love. And for that, I thank you. I admire you. I love you, and I honor you. I hope one day to be as strong as you are. Because before you, no fire has ever stood a chance.

Love always,

Your granddaughter


About the Creator

Brynne Nelson

I'm a writer. I'm a wife and a mom. I'm a human.

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