By Olan Field
My family all sat in a private room extending from the ER. My mother on my left and an empty chair to my right. Somehow within an hour of the first 911 call, my entire family, near and extended, were there together. We sat in torture waiting for the doctor to bring us the news that no one wished to hear. I was only four years and eleven months old, I don’t remember much after the doctor’s appearance beyond the tears and the shrieks for mercy, but the moment lives with me every day.
Fourteen years later, my grandma’s memory is etched into everything that I set out to do. I live as if she is watching me from above, observing my life. Cheering for me, while also expecting that I strive for nothing short of the highest. I live a life founded on key values she taught me, guiding me every day after her passing.
Despite the fading memories, I fight to hold on to those memories like the petals struggling to hold onto a wilting sunflower.
My grandma, Nancy Field, or to us, Grammy was the wife of a former Baptist pastor. She would read the Bible daily as routine, but she wasn’t the type to force such teachings on an unwanting subject. My grandmother emulated love in the most physical way imaginable. A real Fred Rogers type.
She is accepting of all people, regardless of their color, religion, political affiliation, the list goes on. I have been told that she didn’t have a single enemy when she died. The passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4 is the best literary example of who she was and has in her afterlife pushed me to become. She was patient; she was kind. She did not envy, nor would she boast.
Every Friday night, at a Boomerang Grille in northwest Oklahoma City that has long since closed, my family would gather. My mother, father, sister, two aunts, uncle, three cousins, grandpa, and grandma, eleven total at the same four brown tables always collapsed together to accommodate everyone in the family. I personally loved the novelty of ordering the same meal every week through a red phone mounted on the wall at the table.
This was everyone’s favorite time. It was the time where we all connected with one another and caught up on the week’s latest news. A time where we able to see everyone in the family together in one place, noting that this love is the most essential thing in life. Like the rest of us, this was Grammy’s favorite time of the week.
That lasting bond is held together by my grandma and the memory of her. The weekly ritual shared at a dinner table on Friday nights would be a ritual that died with her. The dinner was not the same. After her passing, we only met two more times at that Boomerang Grille. It has since closed, much like that chapter of my family’s life.
. . .
We all have a moral responsibility to uphold to those around us in life. Those who lack the honor or fail to sustain moral principles that reaffirm our trust, waver in the wind like a wilting sunflower waiting to droop at any given moment.
One afternoon, as my grandma was babysitting me, I tried to use the crayons on the off-white carpet floors in her apartment. I made two circular patterns, orange and blue, each stretching about three inches in diameter.
I knew what I was doing was wrong, but like most children of that age, I tried to lie about it. This was without a doubt the first time I got into trouble explicitly for lying. She was disappointed in me, placed in the corner and I still remember that afternoon when my parents came to pick me up, it was like the exchange of a convict.
This moment when I failed to live up to the integrity she instilled in me, would become a subtle memory as I continued to make mistakes through life. The time I played with fire. The time in the third grade when I cheated on a spelling test. The time I got into my first fight. The time in middle school when I tried to become someone I was not. The time I broke a girl’s heart. The time I got my first speeding ticket.
Even though I was a child when I colored on the carpet, I still bear that mistake with me today. I failed to affirm the trust with the person I would come to appreciate more than anyone else. We all have a responsibility to place our best foot first, but at that moment I became the wilting sunflower.
. . .
I wish to believe that the things I have accomplished since her death would have made her proud. I know she would have liked to see me grow and continue to develop into the person I am today and will continue to become.
My first day of school, my first date, my first music recital, my first car, joining the Army, graduating from high school, being accepted into OU, finishing my first marathon, and then my second and the many strides in between to live a life worth being proud of. A life that left the world better than I encountered it, like hers.
My grandma impacted everyone she came across. She showed them love and compassion. She allowed us to be who we wanted and guided those people she knew down the best avenues of success.
I think of her as I continue choosing avenues for myself each day. When the going gets tough, I keep on, knowing she wouldn’t allow me to quit. She would push me, knowing better than myself that I am not at my ends length.
Life continues to get harder the older I get. The things that remind me of her are minuscule. An isolated gentle sunflower along my path or the random field of sunflowers, each are a reminder that she is watching, telling me to push on and never doubt my ability.
At Fort Knox, KY, during my final evaluations at ROTC’s summer advance camp, I found success through her memory. Just days after entering the field in the middle of my land navigation course I stumbled across a field of giant sunflowers. The field stretched for miles. With time pressing on the clock to complete the course, I took a moment for myself. I stopped off the road, sat down, and smiled back.
The most challenging venture I have ever taken in life is without question, the military. Nothing in the latest chapter of my life has been provided to me. I have had to earn everything. Physical fitness tests, weapons qualification, leadership abilities, endless ruck marches, land navigation, first aid, I am examined on all of these and more. I am responsible for my own success or failure.
The field of sunflowers is a physical reminder that she is watching, smiling, telling me to drive on and never give up.