Tag Archives: Life

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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Away and Back Again

I’m sure there are thousands of quotations about change. I don’t know of any that would adequately embrace the current tumult. My mind keeps playing tunes ranging from “Ch, ch, ch, changes . . .” (David Bowie) to “It’s the end of the world as we know it . . .” (R.E.M.). BUT – really everything changed dramatically, for me at least, six years ago and that is why my voice in this blog went silent. Those changes put family first (as was appropriate) and left me, well, behind. Maybe I’ll speak to that time at some point, but now I need to move ahead and writing has always been my catalyst.

We walk outside, the sights and sounds are at once familiar and foreign. A strange invisible cloud makes every human encounter awkward. In my neighborhood, an arm-distance style friendly place, every human contact becomes even more distant. We smile and wave and weave away from each other while walking the dogs. We have to raise our voices to say “hello” over the fence and back away when the smallest toddle curiously toward us. Even on the clear sunny days (of which we tend to have notoriously few) it all feels very cloudy and sad. The dear lady next door, who recently endured the long illness and passing of her husband, doesn’t even venture outside. I want to have her over for dinner, want to let her talk about the person we didn’t even get to meet.

What seems like eons ago, I wrote about the “never” list. The upheaval of the recent weeks took even the option of staying up beyond the midnight hour to watch a hockey game off of my in-home pleasures. I wish I could say that we were making great strides in finding new ways to enjoy this family-together-socially-distant life, but although we finally unboxed and “Escape(d) the Titanic”; played cards and Scrabble; solved many Sudoku and cryptogram puzzles; and streamed several movies, it doesn’t feel joyful. The idea of being under a self-imposed house arrest is suffocating. It’s not the actual staying in, not the physical distance, because we really haven’t changed too much – it’s the IDEA that all of this is happening along with a miasma of unknowns economically, socially, politically churning outside of our home’s walls. There is building anxiety with each day that it will stay like this – or worse.

I don’t know for sure, but I sense that there are probably millions feeling this same gut-turning unease. We all want to have everything go “back” to what it was before the health epidemic and I think we all have the burgeoning dread that nothing will really ever feel normal again. Knowing also that so many have suffered loss of health and life despite shuttering our lives makes it all seem futile. The recent refrain of how we are all in this together – doesn’t feel together, it feels like trying to Super Glue a crystal vase, there are pieces that are forever lost.

There is a grieving that comes with life-altering change. I just have to work through this, as all of us are. So, I emote – working through it. Listening to “S.O.S” (The Glorious Sons) and “Captain Jack” (Billy Joel) helps release some of the frustration. Watching the goldfinches at my bird feeder helps brighten the dark places in my mind. Making a spicy-gooey plate of Mexican food and washing it back with a double margarita fills a physical void. Being (gratefully) able to hug my husband washes away the tension.

Thank you to the optimists, thank you to the people who are working so hard in health care and life-sustaining services, thank you to those who are out there trying to keep us looking forward. For you, for my loved ones, for my neighbors I will keep my chin up, write and march on. I’m going to go out in my nightclothes and fill my bird feeders – maybe I’ll take a gin and tonic with me.

O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

The rain stopped just long enough for the family to gather in a tidy half-circle around the hole. The remnant parts of the age-old ceremony were completed with the punctuated thump of dropped handfuls of dirt. We solemnly turned and moved off in different directions and back into the rhythm of individual lives.

So the good-bye is performed over and over again.

Later, I expressed my sentiments to my beloved husband in my usual manner without any sense of decorum, “Don’t plant me up there when I die.” This, of course, was in reference to the local cemetery.

He responded with some indignation, “So, what am I SUPPOSE to do with you?”

“Just put me up by my dog.” This has been my patent request from the day my dear golden dog was buried on the mountain outside of Laramie. However, the U.S. Government would likely frown upon the practice of interring human remains on the same plot of land (no matter how remote.) I did suggest at one time that my cremains could be scattered there, my husband was not a fan of this idea; “But where will we go to visit you?” He is tethered to the idea of visiting a grave marker, flowers in hand, where he can pray and speak, in some way, to the deceased.

This sounds to me much more like an eternity of solitary confinement than spiritual peace. As I told my sister, “If I can actually hear you when I’m in the grave, then I have a lot more problems than being dead.” She swiftly commented, “You have never been a conventional person.”

It’s possible that what bothers me more is considering a stone on a hill the place of memory. Really, what is it that the marker conveys? A few sentimental words, a start and end date, maybe some ornamentation. Most of this depends on finances, and even the best memorials wear away in time. Are the stone and the grave the memory?

Much more, I believe, is all of the life that is signified by the little dash placed in between the dates. That line should be so much more. The line is where the life breathed, smiled, and giggled. The line is where the first words were spoken to the delight of “mama” and “dada”. That tiny line represents everything from an aversion to peas as a child to making pea soup as a poor college student. A tiny line is a life that touched other lives in home and church and school. That little line signifies a life that made new life, nurtured it, and then let it go. The line is uproarious laughter, silliness, sorrow, and tears. It is story after story from countless souls.

So, I don’t really think that a dash between two dates or even a single granite stone on a hill is enough to tell the story. The single location doesn’t account for dust in the pages of human history, but it contains a literary encyclopedia of a life to those whom it touched. What should be the memorial? Where is it kept?

The physical remains all weather away and eventually become something else, soil, a leaf, a goat . . . nature recycles. Remembrance is kept in word and song; this is where the memorial exists.

So when I go on, I want those who’ve known me to take a trek to where we made a memory together, linger there, breathe the air, reflect, and then write it down. If it was a good memory, share it in joy. If it was a hurtful memory, share it in truth and learning or burn it and leave it to be recycled into something beautiful.