Now that we are sitting comfortably with our popcorn and Enya station, I’d like to tell you about Tianora.
When I moved to North Carolina and into Grandma’s house, her sister was making an extended visit. Both ladies were Southern belles, octogenarians, and just delightful, but Tianora was a little different from Grandma. Perhaps it was that she was healthy and Grandma was dying, but really, I think it was both the way she glowed with affection and love for Christ as well as her ability to be adorably funny.
Tianora was blind except for a little place in one eye in which she could see light gleaming and perhaps a shadow if someone walked by. She “tsk”-ed away most efforts people made to assist her and rather sought for ways to help them. Since Grandma didn’t get around much, Tianora vigilantly watched for opportunities to help me find everything that I needed in the house. It must have been very early in my stay when I asked her where the silverware was. I saw her hesitate, and then she drawled, “It’s in this drawer, but…it’s not silverware.” There was a heavy pause as she reached for the handle and pulled. As she did so, her face beamed. “It’s GOLD ware!” It was indeed. I made much of it, of course. Though she couldn’t see it herself, she must have been used to its making an impression on narrow-minded guests like me.
Tianora’s blindness did nothing to prevent her from taking a bit of exercise, as she told me one day. This turned out to be her walk of twenty yards to the mailbox every afternoon. I enjoyed seeing her at it, because it was more than a walk. She would swing her arms nearly all the way around and stretch her neck and maybe her back. It was a significant part of her day, and I think she always felt healthier and stronger after her little workout.
She also loved to go to church on Sunday morning, but the sisters did this only a couple of times while we shared the house. I recall asking them once if they wanted a ride to church, and Grandma said she wasn’t feeling up to going, but Tianora might go if she wished. Tia sat still and thanked me, but quietly explained that she wouldn’t leave her sister. I’m sure it was a sacrifice. They did go out to get their hair done once or twice and perhaps to lunch a couple of times. When I opened up the front door, I always knew if they were going to be leaving soon, because they would both be wearing brilliant lipstick as they sat in their living room chairs, waiting for their ride.
The few times they had visitors were also lipstick occasions and provided a bit of amusement. In my first few days there, three or four relatives sat visiting in the living room with a few refreshments and small glasses of wine. Grandma immediately offered me a glass in her efforts to be a good hostess, but I didn’t think much more about the wine bottles on the top of the refrigerator until we had a very different kind of guest. One afternoon Tia informed me with simmering excitement that Pastor and his wife would be visiting that evening. I was invited to join them in the living room, but could I do them a small favor before Pastor arrived? Yes, I was happy to move the wine to a much more discreet location for them, but I had a good laugh to myself afterward. It seems that some sheepishness we never grow out of.
Grandma occasionally showed a marked kindness to her sister in return. One day before I set out with Grandma’s shopping list, I read it back to her to make sure that I understood everything she was asking for. When I read off the Sara Lee coconut cake, Tia, who had been listening closely, gave a tiny gasp and said with affection that Grandma knew that that was her favorite. Grandma smiled a little awkwardly, and I felt sorry that I had spilled the information, but now I’m glad I got to see the surprise and warmth on Tia’s sweet face at her sister’s effort to please her.
One day Grandma sent Tia to the store with me. They made up a reason, but I think it was because I had erred on the shopping trip before. However, I was lonely and therefore quite happy to have her company. Without Grandma to hear, Tia talked about how Grandma had become a worse and worse driver, and one day, when they were out, Grandma had started feeling quite ill. Tianora, desperate to help her sister, had proposed that she her (blind) self should take the wheel, and Grandma should simply tell her where to go. Picturing that exchange still makes me laugh and feel relieved that Grandma did not agree to the scheme. But what a fearless lady.
Tianora was eventually taken back to her own home in Georgia, and Grandma died a few months later. Tia had my phone number and called a few times, just to ask how things were in the house by myself and to inquire about my family, whom she sincerely cared about, because she felt she knew them, even the distant ones. She will always be my model of selfless love and ready affection.