May Belle –by Jinny Batterson
(A tribute to my “North Carolina grandmother” on this International Woman’s Day. Originally written as part of a family memoir that May Belle’s one surviving daughter helped me research a generation ago.)
You were the grandparent I knew least well.
You died when I was not quite five.
You left a confused widower, four children, three grandchildren,
And several old painters’ caps that I remember your wearing backwards,
Long before they became the latest teen fashion.
My sister has read and reread some of the love letters
You and Grandpa sent each other when you were young and carefree
and still courting.
My aunt gave me a delicate dish, shaped like a butterfly,
And a matching vase-like cylinder for storing the hairpins
That kept your black waves in place before they got wispy and brittle
From long years of tending spouse and farm and children.
The dish and vase have your name painted on, muted
As the flower pattern decorating them.
You were delicate, but wiry and resilient, and dynamic enough
So that all your solid farmer brothers came North for your funeral.
Aftterwards, they sat together, taking all the available space in my parents’ small living room,
Eating heartily, telling shy stories of May Belle Rea
As I tiptoed among the chairs.