I met Ray and his grandmother outside Cracker Barrel. Granny had her hands full. Ray was running in circles. Ray is 11 years old.
It was the breakfast rush, the hungry crowd was growing impatient. People stood in clumps, waiting their turns to eat toast, eggs, and God-willing, applewood smoked bacon. Ray ran between the people, hollering.
“Weeeeeeeeeeeee!” Ray said.
Granny called for him, but he was too busy to hear. People looked annoyed.
A hostess paged a table of ten. A group of ten fortunate people followed the hostess into the Promised Land, while the rest of us Children of Israel licked our lips, starving to death beside the licorice whips and horehounds.
The old woman kept calling for Ray. When Ray finally came near, I could see he had Down syndrome.
He was a happy child, and he apparently loved his grandmother very much because he laid himself on her lap.
Granny and I talked. I learned that Granny was a lot more than just a grandmother. I won’t tell too much because it’s none of my business, but Ray is of no blood relation to her.
This gets confusing, so try to keep up.
Granny’s daughter-in-law brought Ray to her door when he was 2 years old. The girl was married to Granny’s son at the time. Ray came from the woman’s first marriage.
The very next year, the young mother bolted for parts unknown, she left the boy. So Granny adopted him.
“Believe me,” said Granny. “I never thought I’d have a child in my life, it’s not something I expected, and I can’t keep up with him.”
Her husband died several years ago, her son works offshore, and without Ray, all she would have is her cat.
“It’s funny, I had already accepted that I’d be alone in my old age, without anyone to look after, or anyone to tell my good-mornings to, but God has a sense of humor.”
Ray requires a lot of work. He’s got energy. Granny believes he is keeping her young.
Granny is 72 this year, and she is fulfilling the job of a 30-year-old. But there is something else.
“I won’t be here forever,” Granny told me. “So I try to make sure Ray knows he’s loved, and when I die, Ray will have to go live with my son.”
Something about the way she said that made me wonder. I asked a few more questions.
“Yeah,” Granny said, “I got cancer. I was cancer free for three years, but you know how that goes. That just means I was holding my breath until the next appointment. I was never really at ease.”
Her cancer has come back with a vengeance, and the doctors are saying that it could be even more serious this time.
But she does not seem grieved by this, nor does she seem frightened. Maybe she’s putting on a brave face for a stranger like me, or maybe her bravery is for Ray.
But if I were to place a bet on it, I would say that Granny knows something I don’t.
“I ain’t afraid of what happens next,” she said. “I know where I’ll go, and I’ll still be on the job when I get there.”
“On the job?” I asked.
She grinned. “I’ll be a guardian angel, and I’ll look down on Ray, and my son, and make sure that they have every opportunity in life they deserve, you know? What else do grannies do? What else are we here for?”
Ray leapt off his grandmother’s lap and greeted a few strangers who waited in the restaurant line. They were not impressed with Ray.
Ray couldn’t care less what they thought. He loves everything and everyone.
“Get back here, Ray!” Granny yelled. “Lord, that boy never stops.”
Ray jumped into Granny’s lap again. “I want bacon Gamma! Bacon!”
Granny pet his hair. “Did you ever have something happen that you just knew was meant to be, and you just knew it was what you were made for?” She kissed Ray. “That’s what he is to me.”
I asked Granny if I could write about her. She agreed, but she had one simple request.
If you write about us, call my grandson “Ray.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Why that name?”
“Because he’s a ray of sunshine in my life.”