It’s been two weeks to the day since I discovered my grandmother dead in her bedroom. Like every night before bed, I used the bathroom and checked on her afterward. If I could see her chest moving up and down, I knew she was still alive. However, looking at her, at the shell that struggled to house what life she had left, you wouldn’t think it. Her mouth was agape, which wasn’t unusual, and her arms were awkwardly bent. I called out to her, bumped the bed with my knee, but she gave no response. Then, I checked for a pulse. Her wrist was cold like her room. I removed her wedding rings, folded her arms, covered her up in her blanket, and told her goodbye.
Juanita Wandalee Knight(eventually King) was born in Arkansas to Leona Walker and Sidney Knight. Sid was a womanizer and an alcoholic, which if you knew my family, well, let’s just say it checks out. Leona loved Jesus and bore Sid seven children. I thought my grandma was the oldest of all her siblings, but last year I discovered she had an older sister named Clarine who died either before my grandma was born, or before she was able to form any sort of memory. From Arkansas, the family moved to a small town in Oklahoma, although I imagine all towns in Oklahoma were small during the 1930s. She told me stories about her school, and how there was a lake and a big wooden bridge. Her best friend was a little black girl, whose name unfortunately escapes me. They used to get wagon rides to and from school from a man she called Uncle Mac, who I assume was either her friend’s father or uncle. Oklahoma was also where my grandma started doing hard labor, picking cotton as a child.
Eventually, the Knights moved west and settled in El Centro, California. This is where my grandma met the man that would become my grandpa: Calvin “Buck” King. My family tells me a different story about how they met, but I’m going to go with the story straight from my grandma herself: when she was young, maybe around 14, her brother Billy came up and told her there was a man down the road she should meet. I don’t think they dated, but they got to know each other a bit. Eventually, Buck went back to Texas and got married. He was, after all, seven years my grandma’s senior.
In the time between meeting my grandpa and marrying him in the early 1950s, she had a boyfriend named Bob Burns. I didn’t know much about Bob aside from what my grandma told me about him, such as how he died during the Korean War as soon as his platoon stepped foot on the beach. However, I discovered many pictures of him, as well as cards and letters he had sent back home while he was in the military. It was clear that they had a deep love for one another, and had Bob survived the war he would have more than likely married my grandmother.
The discovery of my grandma’s relationship with Bob Burns was bittersweet. It moved me to know that she had a life of love before my grandpa: love letters, dates, and no doubt talks about the future. On the other hand, the fact that it was cut short due to a wartime tragedy was sad. I started asking myself questions, wondering how grandma felt when Bob was sent off to war, or what was going through Bob’s mind prior to being deployed. Did he carry a picture of my grandma on him like the soldiers in war films? I guess we’ll never know.
Some time after Bob’s death, Buck had divorced his first wife and moved back to El Centro. Eventually, he started seeing my grandmother and never looked back. They build a typical, suburban life during the 1950s which included three children (four, if you count my grandma’s wild, younger brother Paul). They remained together until my grandpa’s passing in 1989. She never remarried or dated. Perhaps she felt like her late 50s was too late in life to start dating again. Or, perhaps her heart was too exhausted from losing not one, but two men she deeply loved.
The Walker(grandma’s side) bloodline of my family consists of multiple generations of addicts, womanizers, and all-around fuck-ups, but in some sort of backward-ass way we still love each other. From the moment my grandpa died to the end of her 32nd year as a widow, I hope my grandma felt loved by her family.
I’ll miss you.