Friday, December 29, 2006

Grandmother's love

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'All the Quarters in the World'
A grandmother's love gives a severely burned child the will to heal.
By Melodie Lynn Tilander

It was October 1962, and we just experienced in the Northwest what would later be called, "The Columbus Day Storm." A severe ice storm with pounding winds damaged homes and trees alike. The area was a mess. The wind was finally silent but still freezing in the air. We had no power, which meant no heat, and our house was ice cold with its bare wood floors.

I huddled in my new cotton nightgown next to my brothers and sisters while we waited for Dad to light a fire in the fireplace. He added extra wood to help the house heat quickly. As he walked away from the hearth, we all ran to find our place standing directly in front of the crackling fire to get warm as quickly as possible.

I had just finished warming my front side, stretching out my hands to feel how hot the fire had become, then turned to warm by backside. Standing there in comfort, I relaxed for the first time on that cold morning. Shutting my eyes basking in contentment of the fire, I was abruptly brought back to reality. In only a second, one singular spark flying from the fireplace caught my nightgown. Flames instantly ignited the cotton and the smell of my flesh burning singed the air.

At the hospital my mom was told I had third degree burns and extensive deep tissue damage on the backside of my left leg. After months of treatment and daily bandage changes that were the most painful thing I had ever endured, the doctor grafted skin off my bottom to my left leg. Due to the severity and depth of the burn he predicted, "Melodie will likely have a stiff leg after her skin graft heals. At the very best, she'll walk with a limp." My mother cried.

Oh, the agony of healing. Any movement brought tremendous pain and walking was out of the question. My pain threshold could not bear it. I lay on the couch day after day trying not to disturb my throbbing leg. Any movement was torture, so I became an expert at laying still.

My grandma lived in town and drove daily to our house in the country to visit me, then back every night, never missing a day. My Grandmother was poor- based on government tallies of incomes, actually extremely poor, I later learned. Yet she afforded the gas to come to be with me everyday.

Grandma never accepted the thought of me walking with a limp or a stiff leg. She was diligent in her faith and encouraged me daily, coaxing me to move it. I loved her so much that I wanted to please her. I would move my leg with tears in my eyes, barely handling the pain. Day after day she came. Then came a day when the pain was too great to bear, even to please Grandma. I didn't want to try to walk any more, period. It just hurt too much. I just stopped trying.

One day after my long siege of, "No, I am not going to try any more," Grandma came with all kinds of quarters. I don't mean a few. I don't mean a handful. I mean a bunch of quarters that filled up her lap. A quarter in 1962 was a lot of money to a child. Penny candy existed back then. She wore a housedress, or what she called a "moo-moo," and placed all those shiny quarters right there on her lap next to me. Lying on the couch I could see them. I had never seen that amount of money ever. It made me excited. She said, "If you stand up I will give you a quarter." I wanted a quarter, so, disregarding the pain I stood up. Grandma smiled so big and placed a shiny new quarter in the palm of my hand. I quickly sat down, the pain throbbing in my leg. She looked right into my eyes and said, "There's more where that came from. Do it again, honey, stand up."

I did it again and she repeated the reward - another shiny quarter in my hand. This went on day after day for months with Grandma. She was faithful and so determined I would not have a stiff leg and would walk without a limp. One day I asked her, "What if you run out of quarters, Grandma?"

She said, "Don't worry about Grandma running out of quarters honey. I got all the quarters in the world for you."

I missed my entire third grade of school. It had been almost a full year since the fire when I went back. I sauntered in the door, walking perfectly. No stiff leg. No limp. The doctor said, "In all my years of treating burns I have never seen a leg heal so completely."

There was an extra bonus - only a slight minor surface scar instead of the common deeper skin graft type. Again, the doctor was amazed. He had me come back many times to the hospital to show my leg and demonstrate its use to other doctors.

It wasn't until after my Grandma died and I was much older that I realized the gift she had given me. My mother said, "Your grandmother could not bear the thought of you limping or walking with a stiff leg. She willed that leg well and God heard her."

"And she willed me to walk," I said. Then I had to ask, "Where did Grandma get all those quarters, Mom?"

My mother replied, "I suppose she went without."

In all the years, I had never considered that. Only then did I realize the selfless act of love my Grandma had given me so joyfully. Her daily gifts to me were actually her sacrifice and her faith all rolled up inside those silver coins.


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