Heath tells his story. · Messages from Heath

Tribute to Annie Mae

We have lost an incredible woman in the passing of my grandmother, and I will cherish the memories we shared the rest of my life. For those of you that never met my grandma, I would like to attempt to make that introduction, and I pray by the end of this you will admire her for all she was and did.

My Granny Annie was a one-of-a-kind woman; fierce in temper and devotion, loyal to family, and she was always one who knew more than she let on. She would call you on your bull, comfort you when you hurt and stood up to even the most powerful when they wronged her or those she cherished.

Annie Mae was my mom’s mom, someone my mom adored and rightly so, and she entrusted me to her care and shaping as a young boy. Much to her dismay, grandma instilled a bit of her own mischief in me, and after returning home from a weekend at grandma’s my butt often ended up with a reddish glow. We discussed the fine art of cuss words and when to use them, how to flip the bird even when arthritis didn’t allow her to fully signal its meaning, and with a puckered mouth and squinty eyes, she bore no messin’ with. My grandma was tough, country in the best ways, and a fighter that never backed down no matter what the odds were against her.

I learned more about a love of simple food from her than most places, but mom often cringed when I talked of pickled pig’s feet, pickled eggs, or maybe it was the fumes that trailed me after eating them. Ha! Grandma taught me the poot song that described beans as the musical fruit, and the more I ate the more I pooted and felt better, even if mom was embarrassed at my publicly doing so.

Oh the fun that I had going to grandma’s, but too often those visits led to calls and tears from mom as she asked: “Why, dear God, why?” In time grandma would learn to say, “Now, you didn’t learn this from me or grandma didn’t tell you this, but…” She would cackle when my eyes sparkled at the idea of a secret, knowing I couldn’t help myself, any more than I could keep from asking for chocolate gravy and fresh biscuits when I visited. Her offerings, wisdom and food stuff, were one of a kind and valued higher than any hero I might have wished to be. The more I got into trouble, the more she grinned, but told me to be more careful or I wouldn’t get to visit as much. 🙂

Oh Annie Mae, the times we had and the things we shared; I will never forget the faith you had in me even when others did not. You stood by, loved and nurtured, cared for and visited, and you fought for me, too.

My mom confided in you when she began to suspect something strange about Jack, the changes in me, and the sparkle that faded from my eyes. You had noticed it, too, the loss of the magic and life. I didn’t want to be a curious boy anymore, and I avoided all the things that used to bring you joy, love, and mirth. It was hard for me to trust, didn’t like people touching me, faded into the background whenever possible, and I remembered your often telling me that I could tell you anything.

You knew that dad was a rough man, leaving marks on me that you noticed when my clothes didn’t cover them, and grandpa even joined you in assuring me, if need be, that he would give Joe a shake or two. He had done it before, after all, and you told me that he wouldn’t like what he got if he tried to bully grandpa.

When I cried you rocked me, rubbing my back and mom often did the same thing, no doubt by your example. I know, I know, if I had only stayed at your house after the fight I had with mom and dad….but Jack was feeding that fire and I was too lost to know what to do by then. Mom called and talked me back home, but you asked me not to go and I should have listened.

After my arrest, you never once abandoned me even when you didn’t know why, and publicly you stood with Dorothy to support me. The world may have hated me, blinded by emotion and titanic loss, but you remembered what mom told you and how hard I tried to get away from scouts. You visited and questioned me, sharing details that enabled me to fill in the blanks, and over 20 years we came to love each other with all we had. Oh, there were times when you raged, demanding to know why, but when you finally found out you never stopped helping me to overcome the abuse. You brought me cigarettes at the county jail and even got a guard to sneak me some nutty bars or some other Little Debbie cake I used to devour at your house.

Once in prison, you came to visit me often, allowing me a source of love that saved who you wanted me to be from what the system could have made me into. You loved me when it was impossible to do so, as I raged over everyone ignoring what was being done to me, and over the years I saw that I was right to see you as a hero. You took the stand to help me face down my abuser, gave mom a voice from beyond the grave, and together we helped bring down the monster that killed our family.

I know that I have made decisions over the years that you didn’t approve of, seeking to find myself as a man and person,  but thank you for never letting go and believing in me with an unwavering faith. Men in prison that didn’t know you always admired the love you displayed and, more often than not, I got compliments for the hope that message offered them. You checked out guys’ tattoos, complimented some on their hair, and sometimes even bought a treat for someone that didn’t seem to have family that could afford it.

We survived this for 20 years together, Annie, and I will never forget you walking with me so I wasn’t alone. You and grandpa sent me money for years, wanting me to have some small comforts, and always asked what kind of ice cream I had enjoyed. The greatest gift you gave me was tending to my heart, caring for my humanity, ensuring even here I would become a good man.

No matter what I endured, how cold and empty the tomb I existed in, you loved me enough to keep me alive, inside. I didn’t always appreciate the sacrifice you made to do all those things, but you always seemed to grasp that inside I was too broken to know what I know today. Not too broken to fix, no, but needing all the love you could offer, patiently. You never stopped calling me your number 1 grandson, and it was a badge that I will wear proudly all my days.

I know that the last few years have been trying, and I know that as we all age it takes a toll on the mind and body. We visited and shed tears over the slow march of time, the loss of all that strokes take away, and it was an honor to stand by you as you endured a prison of your own, trapped in a failing body. I will never forget those little talks we had, especially those moments when Janice went to get us food and drinks, and I promised you that I wouldn’t stop fighting for my freedom. We talked of my fight honoring mom and Heather, how they died and what for, and you know that to the end she was trying to save me from Jack Walls.

You allowed me to rage and vent over the mistreatment you and grandpa endured; how someone you loved took advantage of your hearts, and cost grandpa his retirement and then failed to care for him. Grandpa rarely complained, you could always make more money, but by then he couldn’t work. You two struggled on, taking care of each other, moving me to tears more often than not by your loving example.

Annie Mae, I wanted to come say good-bye, share some of this with those that knew and loved you, but you know why it didn’t happen and who made sure it didn’t. It was never about me, never wanted to make it so, and I pray the rest know enough to know the truth. By the end, you and grandpa didn’t remember why I was here, why I couldn’t leave, or when I would go home to take care of you. It tore me up to not be able to go, offering you the support and care you did me, but now in our Father’s arms, you reside.

Watch over me as you always have, seek favor from the most high as I fight for a chance, and know I will always remember the chance you gave me. Your love, compassion, tenderness, acceptance, strength, and understanding are my treasures.

Heath

(3/8/17 – Portions have been edited at family’s request)

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