(My Grandmother Puddie died last fall. She was the third family member I've lost in the past 6 years, who had an incredibly deep impact on who I am now as an adult. It's taken me months to write about her, but hopefully this does her memory justice.)
If I close my eyes really tight, and the hot summer wind blows my hair, I can still feel the sting of the chlorinated water in my nose, and I SWEAR I can hear my grandmother, Puddie's voice.
I hear her teaching me my name, on a very long car ride to see my cousins in Atlanta.
M-A-R-Y K-A-T-H-R-Y-N F-L-A-N-G-A-N. Over and over and over again.
(Sure wish she'd been available when I got married and changed my last name! Merrifield took some time to spell correctly!!)
I can see the exact shade of lipstick she always wore, in a silver tube. I can't smell Chanel number 5 without picturing her. Puddie. In her worn out tennis shoes. T shirt knotted at her hip. Shorts on. Short dark hair. Incredible smile. I'm pretty sure I remember every thing of importance she ever told me. "Don't smack your gum. You'll sound like a cow chewing cud!"
I had zero clue what cud was at the time, but I never smacked my gum again.
Puddie was the first person (besides my precious parents) who made me feel like I was something pretty special. I've never felt so treasured, than when I was with her.
She made me feel, like we were the only two people on this earth. Time would stand still, and it would be just us two. Puddie always let me know, that my outlook on life was perfection. She'd say "That Mary Kate! She was born happy!" (I think she stole that from my Momma..but who's counting?:)
Puddie taught me so many things. Like, drinking was called "A swallow". Example- "Let me have just a swallow of that water!" She taught me how to tie my shoes. How to jump rope. How to skip. How to dive. How to make an angel food cake. And she didn't bat an eye lash when I told her I felt like it was a good idea to add gum balls to it. She measured out a cup, and mixed them right in.
I grew up pretty positive that, that back room at their house was called "The Doo-Witchy". Turns out it was the pool room...But doo-witchy sounds better in my opinion.
My love of swimming comes from Puddie. I'd never met anyone in this whole world who loved to swim like Puddie did. I learned early on, that peace could be found swimming laps. Even to this day, I feel myself calm down the instant my body is in water. As soon as my head goes under, I hear Puddie yelling "Kick! Kick! Kick!!! Kick!!!"
You'd think she would have grown tired of telling us kids to push harder. To keep our head straight. To kick just a little stronger. Just a little faster.
But she never did.
I can't help but laugh when I'm in our pool here in Florida with my Baby Ben. He kicks. He giggles. He slaps the water. He laughs hysterically. He tries to jump out of my arms into the water. But I hold on tight. Because he's just not ready.
Puddie taught me, that even in the worst times, to focus on keeping my head above water. To tread water when I'm out in the deep end. And to just keep kicking.
So these days, when I'm at the end of my rope and all the chips are down. I close my eyes. And I hear "Kick kick kick kick kick!"