Tag Archives: Family

Heart

“Something strange and rather extraordinary . . .” my mind says. I was poised to avoid writing by trolling the internet, opened my computer, and poof – word processing program loaded.

I’ve been thinking about my grandma.

“Come out here.” My husband calls to me from the backyard. I’ve been huddled in the house avoiding . . . just avoiding.

“What?” I yell back from the door.

“You’ve got to come out and see this.” He calls back.

Everything is soggy, the patio stones shining damp from lingering mist. I give in to my curiosity, slip into my ugly blue rubber shoes, and shuffle out to meet my husband by the garden boxes that effuse last season’s dry bent stems like a tired sigh. “So . . .what?” I reply as I cock my head to look up at his face. He grins broadly and steps aside waving his arm like a magician revealing the trick. There below the crabapple tree the surprise bursts into view. He wraps a gentle arm around my shoulder, “I thought you would enjoy seeing this yourself.” The full, warm, squeezing-heart memories spill in and my eyes mist over. “Yes,” taking a deep breath, I absorb the moment, “grandma loved bleeding heart.” The flowers drip in glorious pink arcs over the feathery leaves.

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Just like comfort food for the mind, memories, especially those of certain special people calm all the turmoil around us. The memories of my mother’s mother do this for me. I can reach back in my mind, walk up to her front door and smell her tortillas greeting me even before I open it. Stepping in to her neat little living room, TV on a soap opera or 1950’s comedy or baseball (if grandpa was watching), the moist warmth of the air saturated with what was cooking just around the corner. I can hear her voice inviting me in for a “little taquito” – fresh tortilla filled with beans that have been simmering all day in a garlicy brine. I would always opt for a tortilla hot off the stove bathed in butter. I can’t describe the fluffy-soft goodness of her flour tortillas, a treat that I have never experienced elsewhere, and to my great sadness have never been able to replicate. I see her hands – they were small but strong, making tortillas; kneading little balls of masa (tortilla dough); “whack, whack” the sound of her rolling pin (made from the handle of a broomstick) forming each ball into a perfect circle; flip, flip, flip the dough circle tosses over each palm in a little dance before landing on the hot cast iron comal.

Sometimes my heart reaches out to the universe and calls to her, wanting to reach out and feel the strength from her hands. In their movement the rhythm of her struggles – through times of war and loss and uncertainty, and her ultimate success – holding her great-grandchildren in her lap.

Her voice parts the clouds and warms my heart – I can hear her chatter in Spanish, it was always so when she spoke to my grandpa or had rumors to share with my mom. The litany of Spanish and a single phrase that I could understand. “She wasn’t wearing a girdle!” tattling to my mother about what she saw at the Legion dance; it makes me laugh every time I think of it. Her way of saying just what was on her mind – something I inherited much to the chagrin of my loved ones.

Looking out over my yard, I rock in my garden swing and sense her presence near. My heart reaches out to her again and asks her opinion of what I’ve done.

“It’s very pretty mi hija.”

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Appalachia Song

There is something comforting and attractive in what is familiar to the senses. Each of us is tuned in to notice what says “home”. Usually this comes from the elements that surrounded us as children, so the music of the familiar is initially composed by our family.

Many times during my childhood we travelled from our western haven in Wyoming eastward to family in West Virginia. Great-grandma, grandma, and my aunt’s generous family were the focus of our visits. The visits were summer excursions into the dialect and rhythm of Appalachia. The singing of cicadas, the chorus of songbirds, and the language of my family wrote an indelible melody in my subconscious.

As a child you do not understand or comprehend the way that your extended family influences your life. This hidden influence was brought to my attention in a local restaurant on our first house hunting trip to Morgantown. I could feel the change in my demeanor when I heard our waitress speak; the familiar surrounded me and I quite suddenly felt relaxed.

“She sounds like my cousin.” I told my husband when the waitress left our table.

“How’s that?”

“It’s the way she speaks.” I couldn’t accurately describe at the time what it was in her voice that reminded me of my cousin. I have now pinned it down to a few sounds that strike the familiar notes. Most prominent is the short “a” that sounds like “awe”. This vowel pronunciation makes “grandma” sound like “grandmaw” and easily slips its way into even the shortest conversation.

There are also certain terms and colloquialisms that I pick up in my sojourns about town. When heard, the statements almost always cause a giggle to escape me and I hope that the speaker doesn’t take offense to my chortle. Typically the grocery store is where the most familiar phrase comes within earshot and it usually has to do with a shopping cart. “Junior, go get grandmaw a buggy,” I overhear and an image of my own grandmother pops up, along with a stifled chuckle. I really should try to get this reaction under control since it probably looks like some sort of strange spasm.

I catch the nuances of sound faster now. Maybe I walk around more aware, listening for the harmonies of language that fill the local dwelling places. Each restaurant, market, and shop a place to imbibe in human sound. Every outdoor venue presents the opportunity for orchestral compositions from fauna of earth and water and sky. My ears and mind work together to knit the memories of childhood into the fabric of my current place in life, weaving something comfortable into what is new.

In knitting together the past and present, I sift through each experience collecting tidbits for the project. One such experience was last fall when my aunt came to visit our new house. She brought family photos, home canned vegetables, and the melody of a dialect song from my childhood, all things that warmed the space between our new house’s walls to begin to make it home.

Popo’s Stories from Home

Dad was born in Morgantown, West Virginia; his beginnings are right here in the place that I now experience as home. He lived many of his formative years in the community of Parsons, West Virginia. Parsons sits among the hills at the confluence of the Shavers Fork and Black Fork creeks at the headwaters of the Cheat River.  Parsons is the place that my dad identifies as the roots of his life, what he would call his first home.

The word home identifies the place where you hang your hat, or take off your work clothes or eat your supper, but the meaning of home is so much more. Home may be where you feel most relaxed, or where you go to get renewed. Home may be where you started your life or where you are right now. Home, for most of us, is where our family gathers to share, and laugh, and cry. Most of all, I think, home is where your heart continues to venture whether in being or memory, it goes there when life is good and mainly when life kicks you in the teeth.

In all of the places that I’ve called home, my dad has graced the space within the walls with his stories. The better part of the tales comes from the times in his youth running among the hickory and beech trees in Parsons. He recalls the antics of family and friends in a less complicated world where the kids were kicked out of the house in the morning and spent the day fashioning adventures of every type from the pickings of the earth. Most of the stories would get us all laughing to the point where our sides were sore. Mainly, his stories painted a picture of a world that is all but gone now, memories of people who passed through his life and became, briefly, part of ours.

In my home, and that of all my sisters, dad is called “Popo”, a term of endearment he gave himself upon the birth of the first grandson. So the stories retold under “Popo’s Porch Stories” are his, with some minor fabrication where I can’t recall the details, or need to add a name or keep an identity private. This is the living tribute to a gentle man who continues to be a giant in the eyes of his daughters and his grandchildren.

Dad, I hope you like these in the retelling.