Grandma Lights the Way

One final breath. Then, with a subtle exhalation of release, nothing. She was gone. Her body remained, but grandma was no longer there.

Born a century ago in 1915, this dreaded moment loomed for years. It seemed she had been around forever, and would go on indefinitely. Indeed, another lifetime like her’s takes you back to Thomas Jefferson. You could depend on her like bedrock.

The morning of the funeral found me alone in her kitchen, washing dishes. An old tape I had recorded 14 years ago was playing. In no particular rush to hurry off to the more formal event in the church down the street, I lingered at that sink for as long as possible, saying goodbye in my own way. And yet, I discovered she was still with me in a place from which she can never be removed: my heart.

The sounds of the conversation recorded in that very kitchen with Grandma and Grandpa cascaded in gentle waves into my mind and soul. The occasion of the recording was the foreknowledge that I was unlikely to see my grandfather again, which proved to be the case when he passed away soon thereafter. She was as much a part of him as he was of her. I am grateful for this single recording I have of them, together.

One or two salty tears—bubbled up from a wellspring—splash into the dishwater as I busy myself with this necessity of daily life. This is what Grandma specialized in. As the conversation continued to play on, as if everyone in the recording had poured out their hearts in concert specifically for this weighty moment, I made out the clinking sounds of Grandma washing dishes as the rest of us relaxed at the table with tea and cookies after yet another amazing meal. Occasionally she added details to the gregarious chatter from her post at the sink.

Time stopped. At that very moment Grandma and I were standing at the same sink on the same worn out patch of linoleum. Our hands, along with the very same utensils and other implements of the meal, descended into the depths of soapy water, from which they were lifted out renewed.

Both experiences are as vivid in my mind as on the days they transpired. Though this most recent encounter occurred only two weeks ago, it is as if the earlier conversation nearly a decade and a half ago is forever linked with it.

I entered the chore out of obligation, and with a sense of loss. By the time I was finished, still lingering but desperately needing to wrangle the family together for the final sendoff, I had gained much. For the first time I realized that I had not lost my grandmother. In a sense she is still with me. Between me and her are two generations begat and begotten from her DNA. The memories and feelings live on forever.

The only deficit in our relationship was a frequent gap of hundreds of separating miles. This is why I am so drawn to the power of place, and sinking down deep roots. The mobility of the modern era has robbed the populace of much of their identity.

A very large percentage of Duluthians possess true love for our community, and hunger for our resurgence to continue. The impetus for this is not primarily economic growth, but rather an alternative way of being from the norm that many of us have rejected.

People and place. The two cannot be separated. I have been overwhelmed by the love and care of this community. Generous individuals have literally put clothes on the backs of my family, such as the gifting of Laughingstock Design t-shirts from the fine folks downtown at Happy Space. Some kind soul even paid my tab at Marshall Hardware recently.

My love for grandma has nothing to do with anything she ever said or did. She was just always present and available throughout my entire life. It’s like this when we embed ourselves into a community for the long haul. People care for and support one another.

“Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

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