Nevada D. Holmes was my grandmother’s maiden name… she was my dad’s mom.
I remember her as a small, quiet, proper old woman who required quiet behavior inside and controlled behavior outside. It’s not like she yelled at anyone. She just passed her requests on to my father (usually) or my mother (when required) then expected (and typically received) her desired outcome. For example, if my brother and I were playing catch near her flower garden, we got specific instructions to NOT allow a bad throw to break off any blossoms.
When I knew her, and I honestly knew very little about her, she lived alone in a corner house in the exceedingly small Kansas town of Alden, because my paternal grandfather, J.C. (we shared the same initials), had died before I was born. Nevada lasted until I was in sixth grade, when she died from a stroke. To be honest, I don’t remember her death all that well because the day she died, an ill-intentioned classmate of mine pushed me into a tree which served as the goal line marker on a playground football field just as I was about to score a touchdown.
Apparently I hit my head pretty hard because my teacher was concerned about a large bump and bruise on my forehead. But I wasn’t even aware of that injury. I did feel dazed at first… unable to fully grasp what was going on… but as the fog passed, I became acutely aware of the fact that my left arm wasn’t working correctly. And when I returned to my classroom, much to my infinite embarrassment, I realized that I couldn’t lift my arm so I furtively moved it around with my other hand on an as-needed basis… I simply couldn’t bring myself to admit to anyone that my arm didn’t work.
Getting home without being noticed was much more difficult. I had a lot of homework (plus my clarinet) to carry onto the school bus, so I used my right hand to delicately stuff my left hand into my jeans pocket, then pulled the books into my body and pressed them there with my elbow to free my right hand so I could pick up my instrument.
By the time the bus reached my family’s farm, my arm was throbbing but I still didn’t want anyone to see that I was hurt, so I took my clarinet into my left hand and let it hang limply beside my body as I stepped off the bus and watched it pull away. Then dropped it to the ground once the bus went out of view.
It felt so good to drop that clarinet. Then I got down on my knees and once again controlled my books against my hip while I picked the instrument case back up with my good hand, and I walked the up the 50-yard driveway to my house. And when I got to the front door, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I kicked the door until my mother opened it. When she noticed I had a free hand, she asked me what was wrong, so I told her my arm didn’t work and I didn’t know why.
I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe because I was home I felt safe. Saved, as it were. I just don’t remember. But I do remember that my dad wasn’t home because he was at the hospital. That’s when I learned that Nevada was dead.
All that happened on a Thursday. And between Thursday and the next Monday, when I finally went to the doctor and had my arm x-rayed, my grandmother was buried and my father had eased the pain in my arm by holding my forearm and pulling gently on my hand, which apparently repositioned the fully broken bone back into a straight line, because it finally, finally felt better.
That’s how, for the whole of my life, my grandmother Nevada and my broken arm have always been linked. As have my memories of those old-fashioned white Canada-type mints she always kept in the top drawer of her dining room cabinet, and her upholstered wicker rocking chair, and a small painting which hung just above that rocking chair.
Several days before her stroke, Nevada fell and broke a bone herself. For the purpose of this story, I want to say it was her arm, just like mine, but it was more likely her hip… I truly can’t remember. But I do remember that she broke a bone. And I’ve wondered how she reacted to that. I’m guessing that she sucked it up and took the pain, because not showing pain was the expected standard on my dad’s side of the family, and, as a youth, I know that I was always desperate to meet whatever standard I encountered, and based on my absence of memories of Nevada displaying anything but steadiness, I’ve always suspected that she lacked my desperation but outdid my stoicism.
Her expressions in photographs taken during the later part of her life (the part when she was married to my grandfather) clearly convey stoicism… and an acceptance of her reality, which, again based on photos, probably wasn’t the reality she dreamed of as a younger person.
I do not know what it is that makes some families prone to abundant sharing while others tend toward reticence and self-isolation, but I do know that my family, including our matriarch Nevada, fell into the latter category. And though I most likely have hidden many pains needlessly, I am not sorry about that.