The Crown of Old Age

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Nona’s small bedroom was crammed with children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, all come to say goodbye for one last time to their beloved matriarch.

But there was one missing.

“Where is Sylvia?” the adults murmured to one another when they stepped out of the room for a break from the grief and sadness.

Sylvia was the youngest granddaughter, the black sheep of the family. Instead of staying home or close to home as the rest of her siblings and cousins and uncles and aunts had done, Sylvia had a traveler’s heart. She flew herself halfway around the world and tramped through the mountains, hitchhiked across the plains, and did who knows what else.

She hadn’t even finished school! The relatives whispered. She hadn’t gotten married, either, and she was definitely well past old age now.

Whenever Sylvia had time to come home to see Nona, Nona would always ask her: “Are you seeing a special someone? When am I going to get to hold my great-grandbabies?”

Sylvia would laugh uncomfortably. “No, I’m not seeing anyone, Nona. You know me. I don’t like being tied down. Besides, you already have so many great-grandbabies.”

“But not yours,” Nona would reply. “One day, Sylvia, you will meet a nice man and he will be the perfect match for my spirited granddaughter, and the two of you will get married and live a full, happy life.”

“Yes, alright, Nona, whatever you say,” Sylvia would laugh disbelievingly.

Nona, by the way, was the only one who could speak to Sylvia thus. Any time her own parents or her other aunts, uncles, or cousins even hinted that she ought to settle down, get married, have children, Sylvia would fly into a fit and accuse them of trying to control her life and make her into something she was not. This would cause her relatives to go all atwitter again:

“No wonder the girl is unmarried—she’s unmarriageable, with a temper like that,” and off they’d go, shaking their heads.

But Nona was different. She loved all of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but somehow Sylvia was special. While the other relatives gossiped about the latest outrageous thing Sylvia had done, tsking their tongues and thanking God that their own children were not like her, Nona never participated in the gossip and would even scold them if she heard. When Sylvia came home, Nona welcomed her with open arms and zero judgment. She just loved her.

And Sylvia loved her Nona, too, which is why it was so surprising that Nona was on her deathbed and the wayward granddaughter had not come back yet. A message had been sent, weeks ago, and many of the relatives believed that Nona would have died earlier but was hanging on to see her youngest granddaughter one last time.

“It’s time,” one of the aunts said, coming out of Nona’s room with a sad look on her face. “I don’t think Nona can hang on any longer.”

The relatives who had gone outside for a breath of fresh air quickly filed back in. Just as they did, however, the front door burst open.

“Where’s Nona!” the newest arrival cried. It was, of course, Sylvia, with her hair in a disarray, a wild look in her eyes.

“Sylvia! There you are!” her mother exclaimed. “Where have you been all this time? Never mind, never mind. Come in and pay your respects to Nona.”

But it was as if she had not spoken. Sylvia, as if propelled by some sixth sense, immediately went to the bedroom where her Nona was lying quiet and still in bed. The surprised relatives cleared a path for her as she ran forward and sank to her knees beside her dying grandmother.

“Nona, I’m here!” Sylvia said, clasping the old woman’s frail spider-veined hand. “It’s Sylvia.”

Nona, who had not opened her eyes in the last twelve hours, breathed in, and her eyelids fluttered open. “Sylvia?,” she whispered.

“Yes, yes, it’s me! I came to see you, Nona.” Sylvia kissed her grandmother’s hand. “And I have good news.”

“What news, mia cara?”

Sylvia held her left hand up so that her grandmother could see the simple silver band shining on her fourth finger. “I’m engaged, Nona. I’m getting married in a month. I met someone, just like you said, and he is perfect for me, and he actually wants to marry me—imagine that, that someone would want to marry me…!”

“He is a lucky fellow,” Nona said, looking fondly at her granddaughter.

“I am the lucky one,” Sylvia said. “Except…oh, Nona, you can’t go yet. You haven’t even met him! Worse, he hasn’t met you!” Sylvia broke down in tears.

At this point, the gathered relatives gave a gasp of surprise. Nona, who had been entirely immobile for days, suddenly lifted her hand and placed it on Sylvia’s dark head, as if in benediction.

“Don’t cry, mia cara,” Nona said, her voice suddenly much stronger than it had been before. “How could I miss my last granddaughter’s wedding? Never. I will meet your young man. I will dance at your wedding.”

Sylvia lifted her head in amazement, and the other relatives gaped. Indeed, Nona’s color did seem to be coming back to her. She smiled as the light returned to her eyes. “Does anyone have something to drink?” she said in a voice approaching her usual one. “I’m thirsty.”

Nona did live to see Sylvia’s fiance (“A very nice young man,” she said. “Perfect for our Sylvia”) and she was there to shut up all the relatives who gossiped that Sylvia’s intended was a foreigner, “not like us.” (Quote Nona: “So what? Sylvia is not like us either, but we love her, don’t we?”)

Not only that, but Nona lived far longer than anyone gave her credit for. Five years after her last brush with death, Nona was present when Sylvia’s first child was born—a daughter, named after her mother’s beloved Nona. And so was fulfilled Nona’s dream of holding her first great-grandchild by her youngest beloved granddaughter.

Nona lived a few more years after that, and when it was time for her to go, she was surrounded by all the same relatives as before, plus a few new ones that she might not have seen had it not been for the return of one black-sheep granddaughter with special news, just in the nick of time.