Friday, October 31, 2014

Time and Trees


Last Wednesday I took off, alone, to Ohio to visit my grandmother and other family. We usually travel as a family, but I wanted to go longer than a weekend considering the seven hour drive and work and school schedules for everyone just wouldn't allow for a family trip this time.
     We moved a lot when I was a child, and my parents have changed houses and home towns in my adult life, so Grandma's house is the closest thing I have left of a childhood home that is still tangible to me in a physical sense. It is always heartwarming and nostalgic to go there. Memories and long standing routines flood me at every turn. By not having any other responsibilities other than myself, I was able to spend some one on one time with my grandma doing the things we always do. Additionally, I was able to just look around and really see the place I spent so much time as a child. 
     Grandma is usually up before the rest of us and I generally find her reading in the 'new' living room, which predates my existence on this earth. There is never a paragraph or chapter to finish first. She simply places her bookmark in the book and we start our day with a hug. I don't think I've ever spent a night there where the morning hug didn't occur. Then we have coffee and breakfast. Even if she's already eaten she sits at the table with me. In recent years she's adjusted to the idea that we make our own breakfasts but she still asks if she can make me anything special. 
     The rest of our days are simple and easy:  talking, playing cards, running an errand or two, planning meals, watching the news and the game shows, reading, visiting with other family members who come in and out, sitting on the front porch. I occasionally go out and do my own thing for a few hours but I'm never gone from her very long. 
      The conversations are loud so Grandma can hear and filled with a bit of repetition that naturally occurs with the older folks. We talk about the past and what family members are up to. We talk about Grandpa. His absence is the proverbial elephant in the room and has been for nine years. It isn't the same for me without him there but I often feel his presence. Talking about him keeps him alive between us. 
     We usually play any number of games of Rummy 500. We all play Rummy 500 with Grandma. The whole family puts in their Rummy time. It is one of my favorite things to do with her. She's good, really good, and taught us all the game when we were kids. The lessons were hard because you learned to lose gracefully, because you did lose...often. Grandma never let you win because you were a kid. If you won, you always knew, and still know, you earned it 100% on your own. Once when I stayed for a week helping her when she hurt her knee I think we played 25 games. We tied at 12-12...and played that last game way past her 830 bedtime in order to not end up even. I don't remember now who won that last game, but the competitiveness and concentration rivaled the final rounds of the World Poker Tournament.
     All these routines of a visit settle against a backdrop of a house and property that has seen 64 years of evolution. The home's only inhabitants were my grandparents and all of us. The scissors are still in the same drawer they were ever since Grandpa put the new kitchen in place when I was very young. I can always find a pair of nail clippers, the Oreos, and the bottle of bourbon.
     I still remember the old kitchen, straight out of the 1950s with its pink walls and blue and red tiles. I still picture it sometimes when we sit at the dining room table, because to this day it seems odd to sit there. We always sat at the kitchen table before the new kitchen.
     I took a walk around the property on Thursday, a most perfect fall day,  and took some photos of trees and flowering shrubs. It gave me pause to think how the trees have grown over the years and I no longer felt like a little girl as I always do when I'm there. I felt every year of my almost 41, especially when I stopped to remember distinctly trees that used to stand but have long ago been cut down. Very few things can illustrate the passage of time like the size of trees on a familiar landscape. My mind's eye always seems to fill in the missing items when observing the property.
     One tree in particular was so large that we always feared it would come down in a storm and destroy the house. My grandma retold of the day my grandpa leaned against that massive tree and it moved. They had it taken down shortly after and was rotten in the middle.
     In the front yard stands a tree about 30 feet from the road. I stayed there in summers for extended visits when I was young and Grandpa still worked. He took part in a carpool to the office. I would spend my days with Grandma watching the stories on TV, hanging laundry on the line, playing cards when I was old enough, and she'd start supper in the late afternoon. Around the time it was getting close to him being home, she'd let me sit under that big tree by the road and watch for his carpool. As soon as I saw the big red four door truck, I'd jump up. He'd get out at the end of the driveway and we'd walk up to the house together.  I still see myself under that tree every time I'm there. My mother used to do the same thing.
     As Grandma and I sat on the front porch the last evening I was there we talked about the trees. She relayed when they were planted, when some were taken down, and how the place had changed over the years. I thought about the changes not just to the trees, but to the entire place. A ten point buck leaped across the road and through the yard into the neighbor's back yard. We were both awestruck and speechless. When she went inside shortly after, I closed my eyes for a few moments to recall the sounds I used to hear, what I still hear if I listen. In general it is so very quiet compared to when I spent time here growing up.
     The buzz of activity the garage once hosted and the normal household routine of keeping up with kids and grandkids is present in my memories and again my mind fills in the details. I see Grandma's beautiful annual flowers in the flower bed which is now a concrete patio, rarely used. The garage, closed usually, is always open in my mind with the hum of the air compressor and the clanking of tools in the background. On the quiet front porch I hear laughter of family and friends with the occasional 'pop' of a soda or beer bottle. The kids are riding their bikes up and down the driveway or playing ball in the front yard. It's all there and always will be.
     It cannot be denied that the time there is limited now and that is an incredibly difficult inevitability. Grandma is a pretty healthy 91, but still 91. I still see her as 60ish...I don't know what's going to happen to this place when she's gone, but I'm happy she is still able to live in her home and has the support of nearby family to make that happen. I wonder if, in her quiet days spent there, her mind also completes the scene in a similar way mine does and it gives her the same peace it brings me. I hope so.
     We are approaching the season of thanks, and I'm so grateful to have this place that has served as a second home to me all these years and that I can still experience it hands on. I have so many places I've called home and like the trees that have come and gone here over time and left seedlings or roots behind, there are pieces and parts of me that live on everywhere I've been.
    I felt called this past weekend to slow down, observe, look, and feel the place that has always been special to me. It is very much a part of me as are the people that are part of the mental picture I paint of it, and I'm ever thankful I am a part of it as well.

1 comment:

  1. This is so beautiful. I know I've told you that before on Facebook, but I wanted to say it again. I just printed it off, pictures included to give to Grandma when I see her on Friday. She had already read it on Aunt Bev's IPad, but wanted a printed copy for herself. So, it is printed and I will give it to her along with her beloveded "Tea Ball" cookies that I am baking today just for her.