Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Walk with Grandma

It was warm today with a donut sky, a big swath of blue ringed by a wide band of clouds which seemed content to swirl around us without ever quite swallowing our patch of sunshine. It was windy, however. A cold wind, the kind that left the fetal folds of my ears feeling bruised and as heavy as stone while the tender pink insides stung and throbbed as though they'd been filled with sand or angry bees. It was a grimacing wind, forcing a pained and rabid smile across my face and my teeth still ache as though I've bitten straight down into hard vanilla ice cream. Even the bottoms of my feet, which were covered by heavy socks and thick rubber soles, are cold, especially the very tips of my big toes. I wonder, on walks like this, when the wind has stripped and plucked the weakest branches from the trees, scattering them across the brittle yellow grass, how Duncan can love it so much, how his tender paws––which feel like soft, stern pillows against my cheeks when we cuddle or wrestle–– can be strong enough to endure the rough cold of the road or the bite of the twigs as they snap beneath him. But there is joy in each step he takes, joy and work, and that's what got me thinking about the hardest walk I've made.

Today would've been my grandmother's eightieth birthday. As Duncan and I trudged across the park, leaning into and cursing the wind even as I said a quiet blessing for the sunshine, which has only recently reappeared on our evening walks, I thought of my last walk with Grandma, which was probably the most important walk we shared. She was an expert at walking and taught me an appreciation for the slow journey and all the unfoldings it can offer our senses. Unlike the rest of my family, I never really enjoyed fishing, unless, of course, I landed one. On most of our family outings Grandma kept me occupied, making the best peanut butter and raspberry sandwiches I've ever had, telling long stories about my mother and uncles, the farm they'd all lived on when the family was young and new, the animals they'd loved and cared for. And we'd walk. While Grandpa was fly-fishing downstream of us, Grandma would lead me down a rutted dirt road, the thick smell of mint rising up as loudly as the horse flies and cicadas which droned insanely from their unseen perches in the trees and undergrowth. It was on those walks she taught me to be vigilant for the deer, which became a sort of trademark of our bond. She taught me to listen and to hum and to tell stories with her.

Her death was a very difficult experience for me but when I was asked to deliver her eulogy I was able to take the lessons she'd taught me and share them with the rest of the family. It was an excruciatingly hot July day so I retreated to my special spot in the mountains south of Pocatello, climbed a hill and settled down under a tall pine on a low rock with a bed of cracked and broken shale spread out around me. With only the sound of the bees and the breeze running down the valley before me, I found the kind of words I think Grandma would've been proud of, words which as hard as they were to speak, brought a silent and tremendous joy to my heart.

It was the last walk which was the most difficult. I hadn't expected to be a pallbearer, and was shocked to see my name included on the list of cousins at the bottom of the program. It was not something I wanted to do and rebelled at the thought. Writing and speaking the eulogy, keeping my composure when all I wanted to do was shout and cry, seemed more than enough for one person to do. I could not imagine carrying her coffin to its spot on the hillside which overlooked the valley where she grew up. I refused and threw what was the last tantrum of my adult life, until my friend Mike called and explained that I should look on it as an honor, to carry her on the last walk we would share. And so I did it, my cousins at my side. We lifted the casket from the car and moved solemnly across the grass to her spot in the shade under a tall tree. I remember each and every step we took and the weight, not just of her dazzling white casket, but of every memory and emotion I carried with me on that hot afternoon, of the faces gathered around watching, the hands clasped tightly together, the heat and perspiration running in a straight line from my collar down my spine.

Duncan entered our lives shortly after my grandmother died and I have been walking nearly every day since, not with the same heaviness of heart, but with the same attention to detail Grandma inspired in me on all those walks all those years ago. And on days like today, when the sun is bright but the wind in our faces is bitter and ornery, when every thought somehow finds its way back to the absence of her, I can take comfort in the details, in humming a little song as I go, in the light dancing through and playing with the wild hair at Duncan's ears and the curls across his back. There is solace and peace in every step we take.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris and Duncan.

Fenway said...

Glad you found that strong kernel inside of you that could rise to the occasion, write the words, deliver the eulogy, and walk Grandma home.

I had a similar experience when my dad died. Didn't think I could do it. The words "Attention must be paid!b." from Death of A Salesman rang in my ears and gave me the strength and grit to do a bang-up jo

Cheryl said...

I had to wait a day to read this. Looking thru Grandma's glasses always made the world rosier. Her songs were happy notes that floated thru the mind and brought a whistle to the lips. God, I miss her. Did I ever tell you thank you for helping Grandma on her last walk? I love and thank you very much.
XOXO mom

caboval said...

Oh I know exactly what you mean and how you feel. I gave a eulogy at my mothers funeral and choking back tears and hysteria I made it through. My mom was one to say celebrate my life and dont be sad. Live everyday to the fullest. If its raining outside, dont stay in! Go out and taste the rain! Taste life! OMG How can she be gone?? Thank God for friends and my "family" (Joey and Kealani).

Charlie said...

Beautiful post, Curt.
- Anne

Amber-Mae said...

Hi there Duncan. Wow! This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it with us friend...

Butt sniffs,
Solid Gold Dancer

Sue said...

Have I told you lately that I love you? Each and every post you do is special Curt. You touch my heart at every turn. Man, I just don't know how you do it.

Kevi said...

"When They Ring the Golden Bells," by Natalie Merchant was playing as Mike, Elijah and I pulled through the gates of the cemetary. That song is and always will be hers.