There wasn’t a lot left of my grandmother’s mind by that summer, but my grandfather still felt strongly about taking her to church. On that first Sunday in August, when the collection plate came down our row, my grandmother dropped a balled up tissue in as it went past, then smiled in pride from the act of doing something good—the giving. We were so caught off guard by it that we didn’t act fast enough, and the plate was handed to Ray Price, who stood in the aisle waiting for it. Ray’s belly sat like a pumpkin and pushed against his blue short-sleeve shirt; his gray hair was swept up into an s-pattern with some thick cream. We looked to him for understanding, but he leaned in and said in a whisper, “Thank you, Miss Lally.” And for the rest of the service we just sat there and considered such grace.
By dinnertime we had heard the news: Ray had fallen off his tractor that afternoon and gotten pinned underneath, somehow. It was his wife who went out and found him like that. We all shook our heads, not comprehending such a tragedy. My mother, who had been thinking about Ray’s kindness all day, pulled her chair directly in front of her mother and said, “Mama, Ray Price died today. Ray Price. You know him from church.”
My grandmother just smiled and hummed a little phrase over and over, her lips pushing in and out.
“Ray Price died today after church, Mama,” my mother said again, the tears welling up.
My grandmother kept up her little tune as the evening breeze pushed through the screen window, and my grandfather’s dog, Jack, barked at whatever he thought he saw.