I wrote this in the car this past Monday. We are home now and glad to be back in our own place.
Stephen and I are driving on this bright beautiful May day. It reminds me of summer days spent at my dad’s parents’ house.
In my mind’s eye I can see so clearly the enclosed front porch of their house: windows on three sides and every window filled with shelves of my Granny’s bright glass bottles. There was a tall iron-framed bed at the far end where I would take naps or just lie there and gaze at the hanging plants fluttering in the breeze.
There were always puppies or kittens or piglets or rabbits or ducks to play with, and once a week while I was there, I helped her run laundry through the ringer washing machine and then hang it on the line to dry. When chores were finished, we’d make cookies.
At night I slept in the tiny bedroom off the kitchen with two photographs of my long-gone great, great grandparents on the wall over the bed. I nursed a secret, much-loved fear of the photographs since it seemed their flat painted eyes followed me around the room. That peachy pink room housed me womb-like in the center of the house. My grandmother greeted me every morning with many loud smacking kisses and declarations that “Granny loves you,” just in case I’d forgotten with the passage of the night.
As I got older I quit doing the grand tour of my grandparents’ houses in the summer and my visits with them dwindled to once a year at Christmas.
When my parents divorced, his parents decided that their divorce was so wrong they felt they had to cut him off completely. My own relationship with my father was so strained, I barely noticed that loss on top of all the others in my family.
While I was in college, my dad and I attended their 50th wedding anniversary party. I remember dressing on purpose to appear as bizarre as possible to their tiny town. They were so glad to see me that my ultra-short white blond hair with the weird thread braid hanging down and my hippy clothes didn’t faze them. And while the rift between them and my father wasn’t healed, there was at least an uneasy truce.
The next time I saw them was after my son was born. Through a serendipitous turn of events, they were visiting my dad while we were in Little Rock to attend a funeral. They were so excited to see three month old Eli. My granny squealed and rubbed his baby fine hair. She held his cheeks and insisted that, “Granny loved him.”
Two years ago at Christmas, we visited with them and I noticed she repeated her stories often. She confused me with my mom and couldn’t remember Eli’s name from conversation to conversation.
Two weeks ago, Dad called with the news that she had had a massive stroke and that time was short.
Stephen and I are driving from Little Rock to Thayer, Missouri today for her funeral. It feels like winding the hands back on the clock. In two generations my family has gone from farmers to city dwellers. The gaps that separate my dad’s family and my own seem so much more than the standard generational ones.
One of my second cousins performed the service for my Granny today. He opened it with his memories of her. I was both astonished and gladdened that some of the memories that he listed where the same as some of the ones I listed above. I came away feeling blessed that I had those times with her when I was a child and happy for those others whose lives she touched.
Today was much harder than I anticipated but for different reasons. It was hard to watch my dad deal with the loss of his mother. His unexpected grief was tougher than I ever dreamed. I saw some of the small town mentality (both good and bad) that he’s dealt with his whole life. I met family that I had forgotten I had and realized that, while my life has gone on, so has theirs. That the emotional distance is the dividend of physical distance, if you let it be. Stephen got to meet some of my family for the first time. Sometimes funerals are the best family reunions.
After we finished at the cemetery we stopped at Mammoth Spring, AR, so named for the very mammoth spring some 50 feet from the side of the road. The water is just as beautiful and clear and cold as I remember. The geese gather at the edges, waiting for bread offerings from tourists. I wonder if my Granny got to visit there often. It seemed her sort of place with beautiful trees and animals all around.
This trip has turned into our summer tour of AR, a bit early. We had dinner with my Dad and my step-mom Linda. We’re headed home now to see Eli and Liza. In the morning, we’re going to meet Dad and Linda for breakfast so that they can see the kids. Then we’re headed to spend the day and night with Stephen’s folks. After having the past week with my mom, this bonus time with almost all of our immediate family seems comforting after the fullness of the day.