29 October 2007


All the talk about my husband’s grandparents has given me pause to remember my own. I knew three of them, as my mom’s father died when she was still a teenager. Her mom lived alone, cross-country from us, and our visits were never quite often enough. She always returned my letters, and sent news of various family members. I loved that lady dearly though and after her death a few years ago many of my aunts and uncles (my mom was 10th of 11 kids with an endless supply of long-distance relatives that issued forth from them) spoke of how often she recalled a certain long visit I made with her. I spent a couple weeks basking in her quiet home after a long illness. We could chat or just be still. It didn’t matter. She never drove, and we walked or caught the bus any place we needed to go—the mall, the beach, the grocery store, the travel agency to confirm my flight home. I believe those weeks gave us something very special and while we did not have the luxury of frequent visits, we shared the closeness of hearts.

My father’s parents were as completely different from my mother’s as could be imagined. They lived on a farm in Kentucky, and were rife with silliness and loudness, more boisterous than calm, a true farmer’s life abounding in their home. Large meals, constant chatter, long gravel driveway and white farmhouse with a red roof. My aunt and cousin both lived on the property, and solitude was never to be found. My Papaw died when I was a freshman in High School, Mamaw the first year I was married. One of my favorite memories of going to visit was playing “Ten Fingers” for the last few miles of the trip. At some point, my dad would tell us to “put up ten fingers”, and eagerly, our palms would stretch open, taut with excitement. As we passed various land marks down the country road to their farm, he would say, “When we cross a bridge, take one down”, “When we go around a REALLY sharp turn, take one down”, “When you see a pond on the left, take one down”, and so on. Our fingers readily folded down, anxious for the next landmark. The anticipation would really build when we took one down for a gravel driveway, another pond, and finally, the engine turning off. By then, doors would be bursting open from both the car and the house, voices raised in the thrill of arrival and arms tangled in hugs.

When my Mamaw died, my parents were already with her, having stayed by her side in the last days. My husband, brother and I drove up for the funeral. As we neared the country road, I felt a sharp sense of loss that came with knowing the welcome would be far different than any before. And our finger game felt obviously absent from the end of our drive (my fingers seemed to be waiting for directions of their own accord). When I spoke of this, my younger brother, still in High School, was driving the final stretch. And he told me to put up ten fingers. . .

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