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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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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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Roses and Dust

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‘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.