Chestnut-colored hair, flecked with silver, frames her softly rounded face; delicate wrinkles encircle rose-tinted lips and cool gray eyes. Spectacles perch on the tip of her nose; a pressed blouse and skirt, in muted tones and tailored to fit her short frame, blend with her surroundings. From across a crowded street, it is unlikely you would notice her. Even in a small room, her quiet presence attracts little attention. To many onlookers, my grandmother appears insignificant.
To me, her presence looms.
I believe that her voice, gentle yet firm, has greatly impacted my life. As a first-grader, my passions were art and books. Whenever I visited Grandmother, I brought a new drawing to add to those plastered on her refrigerator. Gazing steadily into my eyes, she would praise my amateur landscapes and stick-figures as if I were the next van Gogh or da Vinci. Afterward, we would snuggle together to read. Ensconced in her warm arms, stray wisps of hair escaped from her bun and tickled my face, I gazed not at The Cat in the Hat’s comical sketches, but at my grandmother’s thin lips shaping the lilting rhymes.
Over the years, her hair has gotten even grayer, her skin more wrinkled, and her figure more stooped. I, too, have changed, now openly admitting my utter lack of artistic skills and my preference for Charles Dickens and Jane Austen over Dr. Seuss. Nonetheless, my grandmother’s ageless voice, and my love for it, remains the same.
A recent visit to my grandmother’s house resulted in an epiphany. Standing motionless before the backyard’s sliding door, she softly called me to her side; together, we marveled at the sparrows and finches fluttering in the oaks. A short time later, squinting with failing eyesight at an array of fabric on her sewing table, she entreated me to help match patterns while she shared the history of each swatch. Standing next to her, I realized the strength of her voice comes not from its volume, but from the unselfish love and simple joy that echoes in it. My grandmother’s tender tone, whether expounding on bird species or quilt squares, reveals more about her than her words.
In recent months, unavoidable hardships have taxed her strength. As Grandfather shows signs of Alzheimer’s, the uncertainties of his future frighten me. Will there come a time, years or months from now, when he does not recognize me or, worse, his own wife? Even though Grandmother shares my anxieties, she remains his staunchest supporter. Her wedding vow “Till death do us part” holds true after 55 years of marriage and six children. Her smile may falter, her hand may tremble, but her voice remains steady.
Whenever I am frustrated and tempted to use forceful language, the memory of my grandmother’s voice reminds me that volume is not the sum of influence. I don’t mind if I attract little notice across a crowded city street. I am content if my presence, to those I have influenced, is conspicuous.
Like my grandmother, I, too, speak with quiet confidence.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the May 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.