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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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grandfather

Conversations with my Grandpa: Accidental Injuries

grumpy

How’s your arm?

Oh, still a little sore. I feel a little better. I lit myself on fire. I didn’t know I was on fire for a minute. Saw the flames, but I didn’t know it was on my damn shirt. And I had my suspenders were over my shirt, and I couldn’t get my shirt off. About burned me up.

I do stuff like that all the time. There was a time I about chopped my fingers off. See the black marks there? I was out in the driveway working on the steam cleaner one day. Weren’t nobody home, and then the thing slipped and come right down on my fingers and about chopped my fingers off. And then I was covered in dirt and everything else. About to pass out, and this old rusty piece of metal about cut me. Thought I’d get lock jaw or something. Went in the house and I got me a dish pan. And I dumped everything I could find in the kitchen sink. I stuck my hand in it, and it about burned me up. I figured it’d kill all the germs. And then I passed out on the floor. And your mom came home, and I was laying there, and there was blood all over the place. And she thought I was dead. She panicked, [laughs] and called the ambulance, but I was okay.

Down in Key West that time, I was digging that ole tree stump out. And then a big limb broke off, and it was real hot outside. Man, I was really sweating and everything, limb broke off and smacked me right in the head. Busted a big ole place across my head, and run into the house and said, “Go run and get your mom, and run me to the hospital.” I was bleeding all over the place. Your mom standing there and said, “That looks like Kool-Aid!” [Laughs]

grandfather

When your Grandfather is More of Rebel than You

I lived in a dorm room for the first two years of college, and I had way too many things to actually fit inside said dorm room, but I was too stubborn to leave anything at home. So most of my childhood bedroom and all of my Pinterest DIY’s came with me. This led to an enormous organizational issue that I’m sure my freshman roommate judged me for, and even though we had to share a room, she was kind enough to pretend that I was not actually a borderline hoarder. All I had to contain my possessions was a desk with three drawers, a dresser also with three drawers, and a wardrobe with two shelves and a small hanging rack.

dorm2

One evening, I had gone to my grandpa’s house for dinner and we had the following conversation about my predicament:

Grumpy: What do you have to do tonight?

Erika: Well, I gotta go do some homework tonight and clean my room a little bit more. It’s kind of a mess.

G: It’s not very big, don’t take too long.

E: No it shouldn’t, but I have to find places to put things. Because I don’t have a lot of places to put things.

G: Maybe you need some shelves.

E: Well I don’t know where I would put them. I can’t drill into the wall or anything.

G: I can.

E: No, you can’t.

G: Sure I can.

E: But I’d have to pay for that at the end of the year.

G: No, you won’t. Just tell them, “It was here when I come here.” Just tell them you don’t know where it came from.

Flash forward a few days later, and my grandpa arrives at my dorm to measure the wardrobe because he’s going to build me another shelf. He pulls out his measuring tape, takes a few notes, and then is gone almost as soon as he gets there.

A couple more days go by, and he calls me to tell me he’s finished my shelf and he’ll be stopping by to install it. The shelf fits perfectly, but the studs won’t fit into the pre-made holes inside the wardrobe, so my grandpa decides that he’ll just make them bigger. By drilling more holes into the sides of the wardrobe. With the electric drill he just happens to have in his truck. However, the cheap siding on the wardrobe splits immediately and chips off on the inside, exposing the inside of the wood. Undeterred, my grandpa continues drilling until the studs fit snugly inside, my new shelf perched safely inside my wardrobe. He steps back and admires his handiwork.

I, however, see a bill in my future for damages to my dorm room.

Later, I was very grateful for the new shelf, and I just painted over the damage with my art supplies and hoped that my RA would never find out.

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Roses and Dust

flowers

‘Every one of us is losing something precious to us,’ he says after the phone stops ringing. ‘Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the works of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.’

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

Memories are powerful. They help us cope with loss and tragedy. They give us new perspectives as we dwell on old ones. They bring us comfort when we’re at the lowest of our lows.  But they can also overwhelm us and drown us in emotions we aren’t prepared to feel yet.

Memories are beautiful. Memories are unkind. Memories are human.

I was 3 years old, playing on the sidewalk outside my sister’s pre-school. My mom was standing a few yards away talking to the other parents. And I was watching the roly-poly bugs curl and uncurl on the concrete as my fingers chased them around.

I was 6 years old, sitting quietly at my desk, observing the new girl looking nervous in her mom and dad’s shadow. The teacher ushered her over and offered her the seat next to mine because we were both wearing shirts of the same green hue.

I was 8 years old, visiting my grandparents for a week over the summer. My grandmother packed my sister and me into her old Cadillac and we drove into town, listening to the country music station, headed for the local pharmacy. She would always treat to a milkshake at the lunch counter there, and I thought I was so clever for mixing the peanut butter and fudge flavors into the most delicious combination.

I was 19 years old, sitting in the cab of my grandfather’s truck. His voice kind. His face unsure. His words telling me my dad was gone.

   .    .    . 

 

I am completely made of memories. I am stitched together from love, joy, regret, and hope. I am a quilt of the things I have done, the things I am doing, and the things I will do. Memories become shiny with sentiment and rosy with the passing of time. Memories are raw with emotions and dusty with neglect.

Each memory is a flower. And together, they make up a garden through which I can walk forever.

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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.