it’s the small moments

So, I’m sitting on a small settee in the hallway of the funeral home when this kid, no older than ten, sits down beside me.  He has black hair and his dark eyes are wide and sincere.

“How did you know Lena?” the kid asks, as natural as you please.

I look at him like he’s from another planet – well, I think all kids are from another planet, but whatever one this kid is from I’d actually like to visit.

“She was my grandmother,” I tell him and he nods his head, contemplating my reply.  I ask him how he knew her, very curious about his answer.

“I knew her my whole life,” he says straightening up, obviously very proud.  “She gave me this metal truck that I can put coins in and she also used to give me candy.”

Yep. That’s my grandma, I thought.

The kid, who I later learn is named Tony, continues speaking. “I’m so glad that people aren’t crying and sad and are instead laughing and telling happy stories about her.”

“I am, too,” I tell him.

And now, I am very glad that this will always be my memory of my grandmother’s funeral.

 

photographs and memories

Cleaning out my grandma’s condo was a lot of hard work.  Throwing away the trash, sorting through what should be kept and what could be sold and trying to organize closets and drawers took four people six days.  We didn’t even move all her things out.  My mother has planned another trip up to MI in October to have a garage sale and empty the place so it can be sold. 

As exhausting as the ordeal was, I will always be grateful that I was able to be there.  It was like an archaeology dig, uncovering history that we had all but forgotten.  Every so often my mom or sister or I would call out, “Hey!  Do you remember this?” and we would all huddle around the discovered trinket as one of us retold its story.  There was a lot of laughter and a few tears which is what you should expect from the experience of sifting through a life. 

The greatest discoveries were always the photographs.  I think we unearthed at least six drawers worth of photos.  Some were carefully placed in albums with hand-penned descriptions, but most were loose and scattered about.  I think it is wonderful that there were so many.  I used to make fun of my mother because she always had her camera and seemed to be trying to document every moment of my childhood in pictures.  Now, I am thankful she did.  I am horrible at remembering to even bring my camera, much less snap a few shots off.  I need to force myself to get better at it. 

If my mom weren’t so obsessed with taking pictures, I would not have come across this in one of grandma’s drawers:

That’s me and my dog, Scruffy, who was by my side for over sixteen years.  Call me biased, but that’s some cute shiz, there!  That’s also, if you’ve been paying attention, the very first photo I’ve ever posted of myself.  I look pretty much the same. 

This next photo I found mixed in with newspaper clippings and bills:

That’s my grandma, Lena, probably taken when she was in her 40′s (she’s 94, now).  I really like this picture because she appears to have her guard down and is relaxed, which is rare.  I don’t think she liked having her picture taken much.  I also like it because I can really see my mother’s resemblance. 

Speaking of mom:

She’s probably having a cow right about now.  At least these are the cute ones, mom!  I could have posted the ones of you and your accordion.  Yeah, I have those and I’m keeping them veeerrry safe.  So, be nice or I may have to make one of those pictures my blog’s header image one day.

From those three pictures I’ve learned that the inability to cut straight bangs is a genetic trait.  There are more than a couple photos of my sister and I looking like our bangs were hacked at by an epileptic hobo.  My sister grew out her bangs years ago, but I have a forehead you could play ping-pong on, so I need the fringe to de-emphasize my overabundance of face.  My mom finally got better at cutting them as I got older, but eventually I had to do it on my own cause my hair grows way too fast to have a professional cut them every time.  Yeah, the pictures of my early attempts at cutting bangs are for family viewing only.  Luckily, an acceptable style now is more side-swept and wispy, which I can sorta manage.

Here is another picture we found:

This is the house my grandpa and grandma built in Nashville, MI.  I remember tobogganing down the hill in the winter (to the left of the house in the photo) and picking blueberries in the summer.  Every memory I have of my grandpa (he died in 1979 when I was five) involves this house.   Grandma lived here until the early 80′s, which is when she bought her condo in Hastings, MI. 

So, yes, cleaning out grandma’s condo wasn’t all toil and turmoil.  I got to spend time with my family, both physically and in memory.  However, neither my sister nor I have any desire to go through this sort of ordeal again.  We told our mother to start tossing out all her worthless crap right now, because if she doesn’t, when she’s 90, we’ll just tie her to a chair and burn it all right in front of her while she screams helplessly.  I don’t recommend this tactic for every family, but it works for ours.

when, exactly, was I supposed to grow up?

I sleep in a kind of jack-knife position.  On my right side, right leg stretched straight out, left leg bent, knee toward my chest.  I’ve slept this way since I was a small child.  There is a picture to prove it.  I’m napping on a blanket outside, my friend Johnny napping next to me.  We were both about four, on a camping trip with our mothers. 

I remember that trip, just as I remember a lot from my early childhood.  I remember being too small to reach the light switch in the bathroom, but there was a little stool there by the door I could step on.  I remember when I was finally tall enough to not need that stool any more.  I remember, pre-school, first grade and swimming lessons.  More than just remembering moments, however, I also remember what I was thinking.  I remember being in my own head when I was four and five and six.  With these memories comes the realization that I haven’t changed all that much.  The core of who I am, the essence of my personality was basically set in stone when I was five: talkative, outgoing, thoughtful, funny.  Now, add thirty years of life experience, and you have me today. 

That life experience is the kicker, isn’t it?  You learn to suppress aspects of your personality to fit in here, or pretend to be someone you’re not to get the job there.  Most of your life is spent trying to make the square you fit into a round world.  Disappointments, stress, responsibilities leave their film on your soul.  However, there are rare, unguarded moments when you speak without thinking, laugh without restraint, make a face when you think no one is looking.

You are five, with a better vocabulary and more coordination. 

Don’t deny it.  I can see it in you. 

You can be as grown up as you want to be, but if I choose to spend my time with you now, chances are I would have played with you during recess.  Substitute restaurants and cocktails for sandboxes and juice, but the rules are all the same.  You play fair, share, laugh, help, listen and care.  Add all the life experience you want, but if you didn’t have these skills at five, you probably never will.

Making their house my home.

I am living in someone else’s house.  I walk on their floors, my dishes are in their cabinets, my clothes in their closets.  I hear unfamiliar creaking from beneath the carpeting I do not want.  I see my pictures against the backdrop of paint colors not of my choosing.  Everyday I hide all clutter and wipe down all surfaces because this place is not mine and I do not want to appear ungrateful. 

My husband knows this house.  He has walked these floors and laughed in these rooms for longer than I have known him.  He knows the secret wiring behind the drywall, he knows where the new rooms start and the old ones end.  The past echoes from every corner.  He brushes his teeth in the sink his father brushed his teeth in years ago.  He does his course work in the room where his mother used to sew. 

Our house, the one I chose, sits vacant miles away.  Dust now settles and spiders stake their claim, but once this was our home.  Walls were painted as we dreamed and floors resurfaced as we planned for the future.  Closets were too small and walls were uneven, but it was ours.  We filled the rooms and made our memories.  Now, the sign by the driveway asks for someone new to make their memories there.     

I am living in someone else’s house, but until the day it actually becomes mine, I will try to make it my home.  My influence will gradually diminish the past.  My husband, looking for a fork, automatically opens the drawer in the corner where the silverware was kept since before he could remember.  Now he finds tinfoil and plastic wrap.  I smile and point to the drawer at my hip.  “We keep our silverware here.”