36 Years Ago

September 21, 2021

Want to hear something crazy?  I say, interrupting my husband's evening movie.

Someone contacted me this afternoon through The Veggies.  She'd been to a 50th class reunion and chatted with my uncle, who told her about me but wasn't sure how to connect.  If I was interested, she would pass along my info.

“How long has it been?” 

“36 years?”

I make my way back to bed, a kitty snuggles in beside me, and it isn't long before my phone begins to ring.

— — —

I grew up on our family's farm in northwest Iowa, land my Great-Grandpa Bill bought in the early 1920s.

My parents married young; mom was 18, dad 21, and just back from the war.  Shortly after, he began farming with grandpa, who by that time, was well into his 80s and grateful to have a partner.  We lived in the farmhouse and grandpa lived in a trailer house close by.

It was as idyllic as one could imagine.

My mom had two brothers and when they showed up, you knew you were going to have a good time.  They drove corvettes, pulled us around Lake Okoboji on a ski-boat, dated the prettiest girls, loved football, hunting, and anything to make you smile.  Those were some of the happiest years I can remember ..

Our farmhouse

And then my mom died.

The processing of the impossible.  The farm crisis of the '80s was in full swing.  My dad decided to go back to school and we moved .. so very grateful for a fresh start.  Little did I know, but those would be some of the last memories we'd share with her side of the family, for a very long time.

“We'll stay in touch, right?”  I think.  “Nothing to worry about.”

Before you know it, the days (and the decades) have gone by.  There have been kids, grandkids, marriages, divorces, sickness, health, and everything in between .. as one does.

Waveland Cafe – Des Moines, Iowa

I take a seat at the counter of our favorite cafe and order the special.  Today it's the BLT, with homegrown tomatoes; their juice runs down my arm.  The waitress reminds me the chicken salad is a close second in sandwich utopia.  I'm wearing a sweater, even though the day is far too hot for one .. my ongoing wish for fall.

All of our old family photos were lost in a fire years ago.  But never fear, my Uncle had albums full and all the time in the world to send copies of them along.

Was I really ready to look?

And there she was – Grandma Hazel.  Just as I remember.  She's the one on the left in the photo below.  I remember her kitchen so clearly, the way it smelled, the counter where she taught me to roll sugar cookies.  A fresh batch of popcorn balls always at the ready.  The Bingo cards she kept in her purse and all the times she took me to play – just the old ladies and me.  The beginnings of an afghan she tried to teach me to knit, but I never could muster the patience.

One time I asked her why her kitchen table was so big.  “Idk Sweetie .. I've always loved it that way.”  I think what she meant is: “She loved those around it.”

Does she know?  When I'm falling asleep, I sometimes picture myself there.

A tear slips down my cheek ..

Grandma Hazel

The Internet is such an awkward place to write about loss.  It doesn’t have the right weight.  But ever since we've reconnected, I've been thinking of what to write here instead, and this is the first thing on my mind (and heart) right now.

On my desk, I've started a family tree of sorts, “ok, who belongs to who again?”  Admittedly, this quiet introvert isn't quite sure what to do with a new-found (and very large!) extended family.  But instead of worrying too much about it, I'm simply taking it as it comes.

Grateful for every interaction.  For all of the funny stories.  The photos.  For all of the people who've guided me along life's path.  For second chances and the kindest soul who helped make a connection.

I'm especially grateful for the wisdom and empathy that have come with age.  I think of my father and how hard that time must have been for him. My uncles, who lost a sister.  My grandma, who lost a daughter.  Mostly I want to reach back in time and give everyone a hug.

So many good people simply trying their best.

Uncle Joe

I don’t know who took the photo at the top, but it's one of the many Uncle Joe sent.  I love the wearing of the photo, the flowery '70s sofa, how relaxed she looks, how pretty she was.  She looked different when I last saw her, but she was still beautiful.

Recently, I've been listening to interviews from the Fresh Air archive and ran across a few NPR re-released after author Maurice Sendak died.  I've since listened to all of them, especially the last.  I hope one day I'm able to fully embrace the idea of aging and dying as he did.

I've known a few people who, like my mom, never had a chance to grow old.

And while our views on the afterlife differ (he didn't believe and I do), he did fully expect to see his brother again.  But no matter where we stand, my sincerest hope for my mother, my grandmother, and for all of us really .. is that we can both be right.


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  • Reply Heydave September 22, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    Wow, that’s a better treat than a fun recipe!

  • Reply Jeanette September 22, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    Beautiful and moving. So sorry for your family’s loss.

  • Reply Emma September 22, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    This, THIS is why your blog is not like the others. Thank you for being you

  • Reply Steph September 24, 2021 at 7:59 am

    What a lovely tribute. It made me cry. I am not certain of much but I am certain she would have loved this. Sending you big hugs

  • Reply Jill September 26, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I feel that, sometimes, even though it doesn’t feel like enough, just putting something out there in words that you hope someone else will read is necessary. It’s for you and for your loved one and their energy that is in the universe in a different form now. And you did it here beautifully

  • Reply Mary October 17, 2021 at 5:16 am

    That’s a beautiful heartfelt remembrance to your family and a pleasure to read.

  • Reply Lorene February 10, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    I am so pleased you have connected with your family. May you all be blessings to each other.

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