My grandmother passed away last Tuesday. She was eighty-five years young. Although she had some health issues which were pretty much normal for a gal her age, she was doing relatively well for herself. She lived at home and didn't have any painful illnesses to battle. She was the matriarch of a huge family which she loved with ever fiber of her being.
When I graduated high school and started college at Sam Houston State University in Hunstville, Texas, my parents and sisters lived more than 1500 miles away in Virginia. My grandmother lived only two miles away. Although I have memories of my grandmother going back to my earliest recollections, it was during these two years when I was a student at SHSU that I'll remember my grandmother most. I spent practically every Sunday with her. I would take her and her mother (my great grandmother) to church and we would go back to grandma's house to eat a Sunday dinner fit for royalty. My grandmother was the best cook I've ever known. After lunch I would often play her piano for hours before crashing on the couch for an old fashioned college nap. I helped around the house where I could and usually spent most of the day with her.
My grandmother made it a point to attend all of my recitals. I wasn't the best piano player in the world but I worked hard at it. There was one particular performance I had where I worked for months practicing and memorizing this Mozart piano sonata. It was a little beyond my ability but I was determined to learn it. I wanted to play it for my grandma. When the day arrived for my performance, I walked out on stage and there she was sitting with a smile in the back. I started the sonata and about one measure in I completely blanked out and froze. I started over. When I reached the same spot I froze again. I was beginning to panic. I tried again and again starting in various spots but I couldn't make it past a few measures. With one final leap of desperation, I jumped further ahead to any random spot in the sonata that I could remember and started to play. I blanked out again and sat there frozen. Dejected, I got up from the piano and walked off the stage to a faint smattering of confused applause.
It could have been a disastrous moment for me. It should have been disastrous. My grandmother was there to greet me afterward. She told me how proud she was of me and took me out to dinner. It was probably the single most embarrassing moment of my life but a mere few hours with my grandma pretty much cured what ailed me. To this day it remains one of the single greatest lessons I've ever learned as a musician and I've embraced it as one of the founding experiences of my artistic development.
People always asked me where I got my musical talent from. There aren't many who are musical although we do have some strong singers in the family. I always told people I must have gotten it from my grandma. Her love of music continues to live with me to this day.
I went to the funeral this past weekend and just about everybody in our family was there. It was very surreal. It still is really. The entire time I was sitting on her couch or playing her piano, I kept thinking she'd pop out around the corner telling everybody it was time to eat. As we gathered in the kitchen that night feasting on various items that family and friends had brought over I noticed a small plate of apple-cinnamon muffins that were nearly gone. These were muffins that my grandmother made the night before she passed away. I took one and held onto it for about a half-hour. Then I ate it. It was the best muffin I ever tasted.