36: Strawberry Fields

36: Strawberry Fields

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Strawberry Fields

Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward.

~Terri Guillemets

“Look at this one!” I said to myself, holding up and admiring a plump, unusually shaped strawberry. A breeze drifted through the open kitchen window as I stood alone at the counter, knife in one hand, strawberry in the other. There was no one in the kitchen to share my discovery, but I closed my eyes and saw my grandmother’s smile. I thought about the times we spent walking barefoot through fields of strawberries searching for the biggest or oddest-shaped berries.

Everyone called her Bone. My dad gave her the nickname after she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which left her very thin. “You’re nothing but an old bone,” he told her affectionately. Rather than be insulted, Grandma Bone took the name proudly, going so far as to embroider a small dog bone on the quilts and pillows she made.

Every year over Memorial Day weekend we’d take Grandma’s quilts and pillows to a craft festival three hours away. As we drove along the country roads, she kept her eyes peeled for wild honeysuckle bushes. When she saw one that tickled her fancy, she’d make my father pull over and dig it up to take it home.

The mountains of West Virginia were my grandmother’s home. A coal miner’s daughter, she was born and raised in the small mining town of Farmington. She would always say, “The ocean is nice, but nothing beats the beauty of the mountains.” She was proud of her heritage — even celebrated being a “hillbilly” by almost always going barefoot, even in the town grocery store!

She lost her battle with Crohn’s disease when I was twenty-five. Since she had been sick my entire life, I had always feared losing her. And when the time came it was more devastating than I could have imagined. She was the first person I loved who died. I thought I’d never stop crying.

Memories of her consumed me. Springs spent picking strawberries. Summers spent sitting on the porch steps munching on fat dill pickles. Fall evenings spent stirring a pot of her famous spaghetti sauce. Winters spent cuddled together in a rocking chair with a mug of hot tea. I would have given anything for one more season with her!

I remembered all the times she’d been there to soothe me, to wipe away my tears. When I fell and scraped my knee, she was there to sit me on the countertop, clean the scrape and spray it with Bactine. Then she’d give me a round pink chalky candy which she called medicine and which always eased my pain. When my gerbil died, my first experience with death, she was there to hold me and help me to look forward to getting another pet. I needed her to hold me again, to comfort me through this huge loss, but she was gone and I was alone.

After the funeral, I didn’t know how I was going to move on. Then one night, a few days later, I had a dream that I was in Grandma Bone’s kitchen. Barefoot, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with ruffled cap sleeves, she was leaning against the countertop, the same countertop where she’d doctored so many of my boo-boos and owies. Her hair was no longer wiry and gray, but dark brown and soft around her face. She was smiling and the picture of perfect health — no tired lines or signs of illness.

“I didn’t want to leave you,” she said, the smile momentarily slipping from her smooth face. “But there’s so many of you. God needs me to help look after you all.” Her smile returned and I was struck by how young and healthy she looked!

I was amazed. Even death couldn’t keep Grandma Bone from comforting me! She’d come to say goodbye, but also to assure me that she would never really be gone — that she’d always be with me. I woke up from that dream hopeful for the first time since the funeral that my heart could heal.

Seven months later, I was living in a new city with my fiancé’s parents while he worked out of town. It was an awkward time for me. I was out of college, but not yet on my own, in a strange place without the solace of family or friends. I felt a little lost and sad. And then, once again, Grandma Bone came to me in a dream.

This time we were in the center of a big empty room. It was dark except for a pool of light illuminating my grandma in a rocking chair and me at her feet. She was wearing her favorite article of clothing — a high-necked flannel nightgown. I laid my head in her lap; the worn and well-washed cotton caressed my cheek. As she rocked, Grandma Bone stroked my hair. This time she didn’t say a word, but she didn’t need to. All I needed was to feel her presence around me, making everything better.

Over the years our family has grown. Grandma Bone now has ten great-grandchildren to watch over in addition to her four children and twelve grandchildren. Perhaps she’s been too busy to visit with me in my dreams, but that’s okay because I feel her beside me when I find that especially odd-shaped strawberry or smell the fragrant honeysuckle bush I planted in her memory in my backyard.

I may have been standing alone in the kitchen, but I knew my grandmother was with me. Her love for me survives even death. On sunny spring days when I’m walking barefoot through a field of strawberries, Grandma Bone will be walking beside me, always. It’s a promise she made to me from heaven.

~Brianna N. Renshaw

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