The farm folks called my grandmother a city girl. She wasn’t from a big city. She grew up in an apartment building down the street from a corner store filled with candy. She married a farmer and so, compared to manure and tractors and fields and haystacks, she was a city girl. They didn’t want the city girl to see a cow birth since she’d be giving birth soon. It might be too traumatic considering her "delicate" condition.
But my grandmother was set on seeing it. She went into the barn and watched her husband. The feet were coming out first, but the head was twisted. My grandfather reached in and set the calf’s head in the right direction before tugging it forward and through the birth canal.
“I wasn’t bothered by it,” my grandmother shrugged when she told me the story.
She has a way of arching her eyebrows and smiling when she shrugs. It really was no big deal. No matter what life looks like, she is okay with the mess. She’s okay with the way it looks.
Like when her first son died of colon cancer. Or, when her first granddaughter died of sadness from losing him.
She kept going. Like when she lost her brother and two sisters and then she was the only one left. She still shrugs. And her blue eyes sparkle. Like it’s no big deal. Her transmutation of pain to strength to trust in God occurs with such speed and clarity, like a sharp-shooting lightning bolt coming down on the great prairie.
My grandmother prays. She’d been praying for me long before I knew God. I’m pretty sure she saved me through her prayers. I’m pretty sure she saved us all-- the whole family-- the whole crazy lot of us.
“Oh stop it Alice!” her siblings would say.
“Alice!” her sons would shout.
And she’d shrug.
Like it was no big deal they were all being meaner than they should.
My grandmother never wanted to be a farm girl. It just ended up that way she said. She confessed there was a time she walked out in the middle of the trees where no one could hear and screamed. Then she walked right back to the chicken coop to feed the chickens.
But I bet the trees heard her. And when I was little we’d go out to the rope swing and she’d push me and my swing would fly high amongst the pines. We’d make up nonsense songs together and we’d giggle. Then, she’d go and help women at the hospital give birth. Over the years, she’s seen enough blood, umbilical cords, placentas, afterbirth, IVs, twisted heads, and butt first to make me faint. But then again if I ever did faint, her prayers would sweep in and help me to my feet. The city girl could hold a newborn and a stillborn with the same ever-loving arms and she’d shrug like it was no big deal. It was just life.