Grandmama, Alfie and the Promise of Spring
By Sheryl McAlister
Sheryl McAlister is the oldest grandchild of 11. She’s pretty sure her Grandmother loved them all equally no matter what’s printed here.
My grandmother was one of the great loves of my life. I remember the first time she visited me after she died. It was the spring of 2002 … in my backyard. A recent news feature about the emergence of this spring’s black and blue salvia reminded me of that visit.
Her life was one of simple kindnesses and the many that were not-so-simple. She was a good mother, a kind human being, a generous neighbor and the type of grandmother you’d wish to have.
Grandmama, as we called her, was the only daughter of poor parents who had worked as sharecroppers. She grew up understanding the value of hard work and commitment to family. She dropped out of high school to raise her brother’s 2 small children when he was widowed. Her home was always a refuge for those in need. Her fried chicken and macaroni, legendary.
She was a substantial woman with strong hands, a big heart and a head full of wild, wiry silver hair. She reared 4 sons of her own, doted on her 11 grandchildren and adored my grandfather. She took great pride in her grandchildren’s accomplishments – academically, athletically, musically or otherwise. She could cook Southern Comfort Food that would have made Craig Claibourne take notice. And she made the best Red Velvet cake I’ve ever had. Ever.
I was one of her favorites. (Of course, that has nothing to do with anything.) She also loved my Shih Tzu, Alfie. And they seemed inexplicably linked.
Grandmama lived with Alzheimer’s disease for the last 10 years of her life. It began to severely impact the quality of her life and her memory in the fall of 1998. Nearly three years to the day she left her home for an assisted living apartment, she died.
I’m quite certain Alfie also suffered from dementia and in her declining health, her behavior began to resemble my grandmother’s. At the age of 18, she died — two days before my grandmother did.
I guess I’m like most people, wondering what happens to a soul. I choose to have faith and believe in a heaven. It brought me comfort to think – to hope – Alfie and Grandmama found each other somehow. I remember hoping for a sign that would let me know for sure.
The fall had turned to winter and the winter to spring when I stepped outside my back door in Charlotte, NC, one Saturday morning in 2002. I had gotten a head stone for Alfie for the flower garden some months before. It was situated to the left of the covered porch near a bench and stepping stones. Flowers were planted close by, but that particular area was free of ground cover.
I had a cup of coffee in my hands when I let my other dogs out, looked up at the sky to see what weather the day would bring, and glanced at the flower bed. All around Alfie’s head stone were purple salvias.
The purple salvias (which I now know were actually a rare black and blue salvia) had never, to my knowledge, been planted in my yard and certainly not in that spot. In fact, no purple flowers had ever been planted in that flower bed. And the only spot they covered was around and over Alfie’s head stone.
My grandmother’s favorite flower was salvia. I knew they had found each other.
I couldn’t wait to let my sisters know, and one of them asked if I had taken a photo. I had not, and frankly all I remember is that the flowers were gone as quickly as they came. And they never came back.
It’s been 13 years since Grandmama and Alfie died, and I never researched whether there was such a thing as purple salvia. I didn’t need to; the evidence had been right in front of me. But reading the article about this spring’s rare treat brought me a familiar comfort all the same.
Copyright Sheryl McAlister. 2014.