Almost heaven, West Virginia.

These were words I was well-versed in from my earliest days of rattling across the green suspension bridge under the sign for “West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful.” West Virginia meant days spent crammed into my grandparents’ little old house, entertaining ourselves with rusted-out pogo sticks, choreographed croquet wicket-pulling, and rewatching the same seven VHS tapes on repeat.

This week I found myself staring at a photo that my sister took seven years ago as we pulled out of our grandparents’ driveway on the way to our spring break trip in North Carolina. Pictured above, you can see my grandma, clad in a bathrobe, posing for the camera. The best part of West Virginia is my grandparents and without fail they could be found in their driveway, waving goodbye when we left. This photo captures just a single moment in a sea of loving goodbyes, and it is mesmerizing to me.

There are a lot of things to learn from my grandma, who we affectionately referred to as Grannan. But the most important one that she mastered was the skill of everyday acts of love. For her, the neighborhood was a community that you poured into. Time spent with her was inevitably dedicated to her describing the details of every neighbor’s lives as well as all the issues going on in her community. And when she showed up to our house in Iowa, she would spend countless hours patiently doing I Spy with me until I eventually got bored. She made every person around her feel loved with her time and her noticing.

Now let’s be clear, I was an odd little child. I mostly wore oversized t-shirts, I regularly talked to myself in my own made-up language, and my best friends were my carefully curated complete set of Beanie Baby birthday bears. The first book I ever loved, to the point of memorization and near cult-like following, was the story of Heckedy Peg, a witch who turns a bunch of children into food and then tries to eat them. Don’t be fooled, it is not a cutesy Hansel and Gretel-type story. At one point the hero, a single mother, pretends to cut off her own legs. I feel most grandmas may have been at least mildly judgemental of their grandchild for a fascination towards such a disturbing fairy tale. Grannan, on the other hand, would greet me at the door with “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Heckedy Peg.” 

May as a teacher can feel like wading through thigh-high sewage, surrounded by children who would rather watch TikTok than bask in the brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird. But May is also full of the everyday love like that of Grannan. 6 AM motivational texts. Matching cheetah print skirts for a bachelorette when you have never worn that pattern in your life. A box of Reese’s Pieces while going on a tour of someone’s childhood neighborhood. As a wise man once told me in a parody of the song “Hallelujah,” love is not a dramatic event.

Grannan’s love may no longer be readily available to me, and I may still sob over photojournalism articles about elderly parents waving good-bye on their front porch. Healing from loss may be less linear and more like whack-a-mole, trying to pound down the pain of wildly inconsistent surges of emotion. Teaching in May may sometimes feel like a slush of motivational waste. But this photo reminds me that I, Heckedy Peg, live in a world with glimpses of eternity.

Almost heaven, West Virginia.

1 Comment

  1. Ann Garrett

    I enjoyed your article about a very special lady, my Aunt Betty. Your a very gifted young lady.


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