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home : opinion : columnist May 24, 2019

9/9/2018 12:01:00 AM
Cancer Changed Her Life

Judge Rembert
Guest Columnist

---Judge has had shoulder surgery and is recuperating so we are repeating some of her earlier articles. We hope she will return to her writing soon. 

She did not know anything about cancer, but she knew a lot about her Grandmother. Grandma was the sweet lady that she had known for the past 16 years. Grandma was the lady that cooked her favorite cakes and cookies. Grandma was the lady that taught her to love flowers and to construct flowerbeds. Grandma was the lady that she and her Mother lived with when her parents divorced.

Grandma was always in a good mood, and everybody knew Grandma was the best cook in the family. BUT, now, Grandma had cancer.

She and her Mother had moved back 35 miles away to be closer to Mother's job. She was in the 11th grade now. Christmas was close, and now, this news arrived; not wrapped in a box and no bow.

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As she heard the conversation between her Mother and her Aunt, her brain was raising. Where did she fit into this picture? That was the question. What could she do to make this better?

She thought about all the work that needed to be done at Grandma's. Grandma was 67 and so was Granddaddy. But wait, Granddaddy was the sick one. He had been sick from before she was born. He has diabetes and heart problems. How could Grandma be sick when he was the one that was sick for years? She had listened to the family discuss what would happen to Grandma when Granddaddy died. She had heard them discuss the plans for what Grandma would do when Granddaddy died and left Grandma alone. They had a well laid out plan.

OK, well, she had taken time to think about this situation; and she had come up with a plan.

There was a history teacher at her school who lived in the same city as her Grandparents. She went to the teacher and explained her situation to him. He agreed to take her to her Grandparents every Friday after school. Her Mother could pick her up Sunday afternoon and bring her back for school on Monday. Now, she just had to explain the plan to her Mother.

Her Mother agreed, and next, she explained to her boss at Belk that she would have to quit her Saturday job to help her Granddaddy take care of her Grandmother. Now, it was time to put her plan into action. Friday arrived, and off she went to help.

Back in 1959, things were very different from 2017. Patients did not have to be told what was wrong with them. It was decided by the family not to tell Grandma that she was dying. She had surgery, but when they found the cancer, they just put her back together; and we waited. She was in the bed recovering from the surgery. She was not getting well, but she was expecting to get better. We all acted like she would get better. That was just the way it was.

There was housework to be done; clothes to be washed and ironed. Each weekend was busy.

When the work was finished each day, she joined Grandma; and they shared stories. Funny stories about Grandma's life and her family. She and Granddaddy would watch the black and white TV in the living room after Grandma fell asleep. Sometimes, they played Gin Rummy. They laughed and told stories about the other members of the family that they made fun of.

One of the problems that arose in her plan was that she did not really know how to cook. But, Grandma would tell her exactly what to do; and she would go in the kitchen and actually cook good meals. In 1959, men did not cook. Granddaddy's job was to stand at the end of the table and carve the meat. He did that very well. Things have changed in 2017.

The plan worked well until school got out in May of that year. Now, she would move to Grandma's for the summer. This would allow her to do much more. Each day was filled with normal work and much laughter. Love can make work fun. Grandma had taught her to rise early and look forward to the task of the day. Work in this house was treated like fun. Grandma knew how to make things worth doing and worth looking forward to.

When she was well, she would say, “OK, Saturday, you and Granddaddy are going to wash windows while I cook you a really good lunch and cookies.”

Somehow, she made us think that we were going to have fun; and, so we did. She had a real talent for doing this; made life exciting.

As the summer continued, Grandma got weaker; but we did not discuss it. One of the things Grandma wanted was a new flowerbed down the drive and under the kitchen window. So, that became a project for her. She dug up the grass and then, the dirt. She planted the azaleas that she removed from another flowerbed. Then she planted the monkey grass for a border around the entire flowerbed.

Grandma loved monkey grass borders. She had constructed many other flowerbeds for Grandma, and she knew exactly what Grandma liked.

When the bed was finished, she helped Grandma to the kitchen window so Grandma could see it. Grandma smiled, hugged her Granddaughter and said, “Thank you. You know I love it, and I love you”.

This was the last time she ever saw her grandmother in that room. Grandma was too weak to walk now. Before the plants ever had a chance to root, Grandma had left this world. Grandma has never left this granddaughter. She was standing next to Granddaddy when he looked into Grandma's casket and said to her Mother, “My Nellie looks just like the day I married her. She was always so beautiful.” Granddaddy lived long enough to settle the estate, and he joined Grandma. Life was just too empty without her.

All these years later, she thinks of that summer as one of the best summers in her 75 years on this earth. Cancer took her beloved Grandma, but love keeps Grandma in her heart and in her mind.

She can still see Grandma looking out of that window and smiling.

Long after she was grown, she thought about the teacher that took her to Grandma's ever Friday.

It was a very big city. She did not know where he lived, and she often wonders how much trouble she was to that teacher. He never complained.

In 2011, she returned to that house; the house that housed so many wonderful memories. The flowerbed greeted her; what a thrill! She met the couple that bought the house. They had raised their five sons in this house. They walked through the house and allowed her to tell them about the wonderful couple who lived there many years ago. It was a memory filled afternoon. Monkey grass was still around some of the flowerbeds. Praise God. Grandma would be pleased.

I thank God that He blessed me with these grandparents. I am this old lady that houses this love filled memory. Love, like monkey grass, has very deep roots. Cancer does not kill love.

---More About Judge Rembert: WWII made Judge an only child when her half-brother was killed in the war. She lived in a tiny town in South Carolina until she was eight and her Mother went to work. She was sent to a boarding school in Belmont, N.C. From that time on she has lived back and forth in the two Carolinas. They are both home. She was born dyslexic and did not know what the problem was or that it had a name until she was about 45. She was unable to spell so she never put words on paper until she was 65 and had a computer with spell check. She comes from a long line of story tellers and a Mother that taught her much by telling stories. Stories about people and how they faced life and how they dealt with problems. If you read what she writes you may hear her Mother and her Grandmother talking to her. She is thrilled to know that anyone reads her words and finds them interesting. Oh, she is 75 now and she now makes her home in Aiken, S.C. If you like Judge’s writings or would like to comment on them let her know by emailing

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