I thought it was safe as hell – An ode to my grandma

coyote6My little sister Abby wanted to do something cool/crazy for her 20th birthday. Being the convincing type, she conscripted my grandma, who at the time was already in her 80s and my poor old pop as the driver. The plan was to drive through the Zion tunnel to the top where she and my grandma would hop out of the car. My dad would then drive the car to the other end and wait. My grandma and little sister would then run through the tunnel, the long one, to meet him on the other side.

My family comes from a small town on the other side of Zion known as Orderville. The last place the Mormons practiced their version of communism known as the United Order. My grandma, at one point, could remember when they were building the tunnel. She recounted to me that during construction, people would drive down to the entrance and park their car, walk through the tunnel and pick up another vehicle on the other side to make their way to SG.

When my dad was a teenager, it was popular to run through the tunnels. Not because it was illegal, there were pull outs and scenic stops within the tunnels that were completely legal to stop at and use. These are still there today, but are blocked off so you can’t stop. No, the thrill of running through the tunnel was hiding in the wall and jumping out at cars as they came through attempting to startle the drivers. Within the tunnel, the walls are not even but have a joist or arch that is about two feet wide and then a void that goes back a foot or so before the next arch. This allows about the perfect space for a human to tuck themselves in and hide.

Of course, at some point someone died, people fell through the scenic windows and the tunnels were shut down to any stopping or pedestrian travel. You know because it wasn’t safe any more.

My dad pulled up to the curb and my frail grandma and over zealous, young sister got out. They had planned on getting caught and had agreed that if stopped by the rangers their story was that my grandma was senile and Abby was trying to get her back out of the tunnel and to safety.

They proceeded to leave the car and enter the upper entrance of the tunnel. The plan went without a hitch. They ran down the tunnels until they could hear an automobile approaching and then they would hide between the arches. It was late and there weren’t too many cars anyway. They emerged from the bottom entrance and found my dad exactly where he had promised to be.

Giggling like little school girls that jumped back in the car with their adrenaline roaring and feeling as if they had just stuck it to the man. And then the ranger pulled up to the car.

Anyone who knows my grandma can vouch for her badassery. When Abby told me what she had planned and who was going to accompany her, it didn’t surprise me one bit. I chuckled, wished that I could be there and then anxiously awaited to hear back. I also spent time checking the headlines expecting to find, “Grandma arrested running through Zion tunnel, claims to be senile.” or something along those lines.

I never thought they would actually get through the tunnel.


About a month and a half ago, her children decided that it would be in her best interest to place her in a 24 hour assisted care facility. I made my first visit a week or two ago. She was tired and/or fairly sedated. She was just finishing her dinner. In her typical fashion she immediately asked my aunt to see if the kitchen could make KB and I a plate so we wouldn’t go hungry. We tried to explain to her that I had been a vegetarian for over a decade and, although I appreciated the offer, wouldn’t like any chicken noodle soup. She just looked at me a little disgusted and then forgot.

U. Utah Philips stated that it’s important to thank your elders, those people that went before you and handed down traits, knowledge or information that shaped your life in ways that you never knew possible. It’s often not until years later that you realize how influential moments or shared memories have been in your life.

The earliest memories I have of written words or literature coincide with some of my fondest memories of my grandma. She writes. She has written poetry her entire life and there were few family gatherings that she didn’t share something she had recently finished or dug up an old gem as a way to tell us a story.

For years my mom and some of my aunts have talked about compiling all of those poems and getting it printed so that we can all have one. It was only a few weeks after she entered her new domicile that it was finally finished, printed and presented to her. I was given one shortly after.

Call it happenstance. Call it what you will, but when I first opened the book, this was the poem.

Secluded Cathedral

I attend a church

set apart within a forestry

where a lone sego lily blooms

mid pine and spruce debris.

Above moss covered rocks

an a cappella aviary

all reverenced by

a whispering aspen tree.

Thereat there is

a pew for two

God and me.

I feel in many ways, I’ve said those same things thousands of times. Not as beautifully or as poetically, for sure, but the same idea has been a bit of a mantra of mine for the past decade or so.

There are stories you hear told so many times about someone that they become the logo, the avatar of that person.

It’s oft been repeated that as a young girl, she would find rattle snakes and grab them by the tell swinging them around her head so they couldn’t bight her and then she would see how far they would fly as she released them into the air. I’ve never hear her tell this story, but many others have recounted it to me. Any time she was present and this story was told, she never disputed the claims, but rather smiled and stayed quiet.

In our visit, my grandma was prompted to tell some of her famous stories. Of course, the birthday celebration tunnel run came up quickly. A grin spread across her face, as she listened to others tell her story. We were all chuckling when my aunt mentioned that it probably wasn’t all that safe.

Grandma’s response, “I thought it was safe as hell.”

Based on her extensive literary background, I have no doubt that at some point she thought about that phrase, “Safe as Hell.” I like to think that she contemplated it and realized how true it was. Life is safe as hell. You have a beginning and an ending, anything can happen in between, but the kicker is that there is no guarantee of how or when it will end. The idea of safety is a farce. People slip and die in their showers, or at least according to the oft cited website, Answers.com heaps of folks do.

I hope that when I’m her age I can leave behind the same quantity and quality of memories. That people will gather around me and prompt me to tell stories that I can remember but can’t quite get out, that when repeating myself and the countless times I think I’m starting the story without finishing it, they will be eager to here what comes next. And even if the punch line has to be told by someone else, I hope that my life will have been as rich as hers.

And being bruised, broken and done, I can clearly state, “It was safe as hell.”

P. L. and R.


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