"Grandma, is it really you? I never saw you with dark hair in real life, but from those photos in your albums, I know it must be you. Oh, you're so beautiful, just as Mama said you were!" I wrapped my arms around the smiling young woman. She reminded me of the perfect Gibson girl art work I'd always admired. Her own arms captured me and held me close. I couldn't help noticing the familiar fragrance of Ivory soap and Fels-Naphtha mixed with fresh-air on her blouse.
Here I was, experiencing the actual presence of this woman I loved that my mom had described to me from her own childhood memories. She told me how she had watched her mother during church services; how she couldn't take her own eyes off her mother's profile, dark hair upswept and tears flowing down her cheeks as she listened to the sermon. Now, I could see for myself.
The words "You precious child," burned like a fervent kiss against my cheek as she continued to squeeze me tight. Oh, the joy that overflowed from my heart. It was enough to make my skin tingle as if champagne bubbles were popping out my pores.
"Have you seen the banquet hall, yet?" My grandmother released me from her embrace and took my hand. "I know someone else you're longing to see...." We entered the doorway into a room that was more like an outdoor wedding reception. Gauzey fabric panels soaked in sunlight glittered with small crystals woven in and around the drapes over the table. Enormous beyond measure, the smorgasbord stretched as far as the eye could see. And, yet, I got the distinct feeling this was still an intimate family gathering.
Then I saw him. Unmistakeable in his army uniform, he rendered a salute, a big grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. "Hello, Captain!" That special rich deep voice I loved that always sounded as if it were ready to burst into song or a laugh made my heart leap to my throat.
"Uncle Dean! Oh, how I've missed you!" They say a gal can't resist a man in a uniform. Uncle Dean had to be my first love. I was just a little girl when he walked in our front door, home from the war, handsome as all get out in his brown, belted, class A outfit. I wanted to marry a man just like him, a singer, guitar-playing lifeguard, hunter, fisherman, carpenter, soldier hero. My grandma's youngest child, he was my mother's brother.
He chuckled, that same delightful sound that told me this "buck sergeant" was proud of his niece. When I came home from my own tour of duty as an army nurse in Vietnam, he always reminded me that I outranked him. He made a habit of greeting me as "Captain!"
"There's so much more," both of my companions told me, taking hold of my hands. We skipped, no make that floated, like happy children at play. "Here's another someone special to you...."
"Eloise! Oh, Eloise...." I felt tears well up in my eyes. "You left us so early, we never got to tell you how much you meant to us little kids. You were such a wonderful cousin, looking after us and doing all those nice things for us." Another beautiful girl, this time from my father's side of the family came toward us, smiling. She took my face in her hands, quickly brushing away the tears, "Hey, little one; don't you know there's no crying in this place?"
I laughed through my stifled sobs, "Of course! How could I forget! This is the place where we never have to say good-bye, ever again."
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