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The Missing

I miss my grandmother.

I had the privilege of being close to her, if not always in proximity, then at least knowing that she was always just a phone call away.

I should have called her more.

I always loved her laugh, and I loved listening to her stories, the way she told them in her languid Southern drawl, reminiscent of humid Georgia days spent sipping sweet tea out on the front porch.

I should have listened more.

I loved the way she would slowly retreat into her own self after a while, knowing that she was becoming overwhelmed with people and socialization, but also knowing that she gave that trait to me.

I should have held her hand more.

I loved the eyes she had for my grandpa, always rolling to the ceiling in exasperation, always floating back down with so much love for the man who called her his bride.

I should have watched her more.

I loved the way she loved us, knowing that I could always find solace on the couch sitting next to her, as she would brush my hand with her beautifully crooked fingers, a little space of quiet in my grandmother’s presence.

The more I miss her, the more I love her.

On and on it goes.

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A Letter

To whom it may concern,

They were all right, you know. Your mothers and your fathers. Your grandparents, in the way they could see right into your future. They’ve been here already, you see. Right in the shoes you thought belonged to only you.

Your mother had her heart broken into beautiful pieces like that boy did to you all those years ago. Your grandfather gave his hands to his work the same way the callouses on your palms grow bigger by the day.

You’re important. What you do and what happens to you matters. But don’t go out there thinking no one could possibly understand what’s swirling around in your mind.

Let people in. Let people understand. Because they’re the ones who are going to help you through.

With love.

 

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Richard Bruatigan

I came across this several years ago, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read:

I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before.

I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six.

It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time.

Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.

It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “… the President of the United States… “

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio….

And that’s how you look to me.

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I Will Love You

This is long, but so worth reading through. From The Beatrice Letters by the one and only Lemony Snicket:

I will love you as a thief loves a gallery and as a crow loves a murder, as a cloud loves bats and as a range loves braes. I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong. I will love you as a battlefield loves young men and as peppermints love your allergies, and I will love you as the banana peel loves the shoe of a man who was just struck by a shingle falling off a house. I will love you as a volunteer fire department loves rushing into burning buildings and as burning buildings love to chase them back out, and as a parachute loves to leave a blimp and as a blimp operator loves to chase after it.

I will love you as a dagger loves a certain person’s back, and as a certain person loves to wear dagger proof tunics, and as a dagger proof tunic loves to go to a certain dry cleaning facility, and how a certain employee of a dry cleaning facility loves to stay up late with a pair of binoculars, watching a dagger factory for hours in the hopes of catching a burglar, and as a burglar loves sneaking up behind people with binoculars, suddenly realizing that she has left her dagger at home. I will love you as a drawer loves a secret compartment, and as a secret compartment loves a secret, and as a secret loves to make a person gasp, and as a gasping person loves a glass of brandy to calm their nerves, and as a glass of brandy loves to shatter on the floor, and as the noise of glass shattering loves to make someone else gasp, and as someone else gasping loves a nearby desk to lean against, even if leaning against it presses a lever that loves to open a drawer and reveal a secret compartment. I will love you until all such compartments are discovered and opened, and until all the secrets have gone gasping into the world. I will love you until all the codes and hearts have been broken and until every anagram and egg has been unscrambled.

I will love you until every fire is extinguised and until every home is rebuilt from the handsomest and most susceptible of woods, and until every criminal is handcuffed by the laziest of policemen. I will love until M. hates snakes and J. hates grammar, and I will love you until C. realizes S. is not worthy of his love and N. realizes he is not worthy of the V. I will love you until the bird hates a nest and the worm hates an apple, and until the apple hates a tree and the tree hates a nest, and until a bird hates a tree and an apple hates a nest, although honestly I cannot imagine that last occurrence no matter how hard I try. I will love you as we grow older, which has just happened, and has happened again, and happened several days ago, continuously, and then several years before that, and will continue to happen as the spinning hands of every clock and the flipping pages of every calendar mark the passage of time, except for the clocks that people have forgotten to wind and the calendars that people have forgotten to place in a highly visible area. I will love you as we find ourselves farther and farther from one another, where we once we were so close that we could slip the curved straw, and the long, slender spoon, between our lips and fingers respectively.

I will love you until the chances of us running into one another slip from slim to zero, and until your face is fogged by distant memory, and your memory faced by distant fog, and your fog memorized by a distant face, and your distance distanced by the memorized memory of a foggy fog. I will love you no matter where you go and who you see, no matter where you avoid and who you don’t see, and no matter who sees you avoiding where you go. I will love you no matter what happens to you, and no matter how I discover what happens to you, and no matter what happens to me as I discover this, and now matter how I am discovered after what happens to me as I am discovering this.

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5 Things My Mother Taught Me

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  1. It’s better to have and not need than need and not have.

    • My mom is always prepared. In her car, she always has Advil, band-aids, paper towels, plastic shopping bags, an umbrella, a hairbrush. You name it, she probably has it. This made her one excellent Girl Scout leader and child wrangler for 13 years.
  2. Don’t be late. Better yet, be 10 minutes early.

    • Her watch and every single clock in her house is set 12 minutes early just so she’ll be ahead of schedule. What some would consider impractical, she has lived by her whole life. And it’s something she has instilled in both me and my sister, so that in college, I was always early to my classes, and I have never been late to work.
  3. Know the difference between a flat head and a phillips head screwdriver.

    • My mom has never let new furniture, a flat tire, or a clogged toilet get in her way. I grew up knowing my way around the tool box, and it’s something I know I will never regret. My mom taught me that women are strong and can do anything, no matter what social expectations may exist.
  4. Make time for your family and participate.

    • I have spent my whole life attending family reunions, visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and the like whenever we go on vacation, and I have been to so many graduations, plays, sporting events that my sister or cousins have been in. Family is important. I cherish the time I have spent with my grandparents. I love their stories. I love my crazy extended family. I don’t know what I would do without them all.
  5. Don’t let a schedule keep you from doing something spontaneous.

    • Every Saturday growing up, my mom would take my sister and me on a Saturday Adventure. She wouldn’t tell us where we were going or how long it was going to last. Once, she picked us up early from school, we packed our suitcases for anything, and we hit the road. Later she told us she hadn’t planned anything. She just headed east, and we found ourselves at the Outer Banks in North Carolina for the weekend.

I know Mother’s Day was a few weeks ago, but I hope I never let my appreciation for my mom be restricted to just one day out of the year. I value any moment I spend with her. And I know that no matter how long I’ve been away, or even how often I’ve been home… Home is my favorite place to be.

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School

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My grandpa is one of the most important people in my life. He’s known as Grumpy in my family because he’s one grumpy old man. When you really know him though, you can see that he’s kind and loving and he values his family. When I went to college, I got to live in the same town as my grandpa, and I made regular visits to see him throughout the week. We’d go out for dinner, or I’d go to his house and bake him his favorite cookies, or sometimes he’d show up at my dorm room on the weekends at who-knows-what-time in the morning to show me the latest project he’d been working on. Since I graduated, I haven’t been able to see him as much I’d like (which is partly my own fault).

But I recorded a few of our conversations on my phone to save for later. So I could listen to that gravelly voice full of quiet laughter and years of hard labor and decades of stories, memories, and love.

. . .

We used to have a song when I was in Presbyterian Sunday school called something about “bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t even know what a sheave was.

I don’t either.

Well it’s a bale of hay. I found out later. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was a good idea to bring ‘em in. And then we’d sing “All the Christians” and I liked that one because you got to stomp your feet, march around. Went to the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school at a little ole wooden building – I don’t think that building was much bigger than this kitchen. Seemed like it was big ‘cause we was little. And it had a big old pot belly stove in there in the winter time, and it had an ole upright piano that was bad out of tune. The old preacher would get up there and he would say, “Ok, everybody turn to page 92 in the song book.”

Somebody would say, “We sang that last week!”

He’d say, “Well, how ‘bout page 94?”

“I don’t know that one!”

“Well how ‘bout page 21?”

Then the piano player would say, “I can’t play that!”

And then we’d argue on what we gonna sing.

Then we’d have Sunday school and everybody’d go out there and get in a fight.

I feel like that’s not what you’re supposed to do in Sunday school.

Well, that’s what we did in the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school.

Now if the preacher liked you good, they had a big ole bell in the belfry that had a rope coming down. And if he liked you, he’d let you ring the bell. And one day he decided it was my time to ring the bell. I went to ring it, and I couldn’t reach the rope. And I didn’t get to ring the bell. Never did get to ring it. Rope was too short.

We’d meet in the church building there, and we’d sing some songs, and he’d make a little bit of a sermon, and then we’d go outside, sit under the tree and we’d have a Sunday school lesson out there. Sitting under the tree. ‘Cept when it was raining, then we stayed inside.

Sometimes you’d only get told about sin. And you’d start talking about stuff and I figured, well that’s stuff I liked to do! [laughs] And then I was in a dilemma, I didn’t know what to do then.

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Limbo

I am constantly stuck in limbo between remembering and forgetting. Forgiveness and regret.

The forgetting brings temporary peace. And the remembering brings the dull, lingering ache.

But I know that I can keep going because I have loved and been loved. I have had and lost. I have accepted and forgiven. And I have done the hardest thing of all: I took the pain and let it make me kinder.

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Homesick

[This post was originally written September 22, 2013.]

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the morning and afternoon cooking meals to store in my grandfather’s freezer. He lives by himself in this old log cabin with a sagging, discolored roof surrounded by cedar trees and cow fields. And he’s just not very good at taking care of himself. Every now and then, he needs someone to come along and pick up after him and make sure he has something halfway decent to eat.

Cooking all day was exhausting, but also therapeutic in its own way. Dicing the vegetables, browning the meat, boiling the rice. It required all my attention and let me forget about these nagging worries for a little while.

My thoughts changed from ones of homesickness and anxiety to those of comfort and nostalgia. I held my grandmother’s ancient, grease-stained recipes between my fingers and thought back to childhood days of licking batter from the mixing bowl, sneaking bites from the cutting boards, and my grandma’s gentle, crooked fingers guiding mine as we stirred together.

For the majority of the time, my grandpa sat at the kitchen table telling me stories in his usual fashion: just true enough to be believable, but just ridiculous enough to be fantastical. The way he smiled and the way his eyes lit up for a few minutes reminded me that sometimes it’s the little things that can get rid of those festering misgivings brought on by long periods away from home. As I listened, I admired his calloused hands, rough from years of labor. I admired his curled grey beard, slightly discolored from lunch that afternoon. And I admired his eyes, blue-grey like the sea where he spent so many years of his life.

Yesterday was one of those days that felt ordinary in the moment, but, upon reflection, is one that will not easily be forgotten, pushed away to the cobwebbed sections of my mind. As I worked some oatmeal raisin cookie batter with a cracked wooden spoon and listened to my grandfather’s sandpaper voice, I realized how loved I am. How I am a part of something so much greater than me. I am from a family who knows nothing but love.

Homesick? No. Just loved.