Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Traveling--Back in Time

We have had some busy days and unexpected travels in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, a relative became ill and some of us had to travel to go to my family's home town. The good news is that the relative is doing better now and more good news is that we were able to visit with my grandmother. To visit my grandmother, who is nearly 99 years old, in her own home is a priceless experience. She keeps her home the same way that I've always remembered it since a small child. She is able to remember and recount many memories of people and times that I have never known. When she talks, I love to listen.
The best memories I have of being at my grandmother's house are extended family gatherings. My aunts and uncles, my mother's cousins, my grandmother's sister, her brothers would all just stop over and sit on the front porch and talk. My grandfather would put on his little transistor radio so that they could keep track of the latest baseball game. My cousins and I, along with the neighborhood kids, would play outside or in the basement, which was pretty much a large empty space. We would play hide-and-go-seek, Red Rover Red Rover, and Ghost in the Graveyard--for hours. Then, if we were lucky, my grandmother would let us have a homemade ginger cookie and some Fresca or water from the hose.
When my cousins weren't there, and the neighborhood kids were with their families, we would go down into the basement and search through the many, many books that my grandmother had there. She had books like Sherlock Holmes, the Hardy Boys' series, and my favorite--Nancy Drew! She'd let us borrow them.
Nights would bring more sitting on the porch by the adults, especially in the summer, and eating fresh peaches with milk. My grandmother had a large mason jar that she kept on the porch. Its lid was punched with holes. This jar was for catching lightning bugs. All around the house we'd go, trying to catch lightning bugs and once caught, we'd watch their tails light up and die out, light up and die out. We'd bring the jar to my grandmother and she'd hold onto it while we sat down on the porch steps and finally wiped out from playing, we'd sit and listen to the adults. These were the times when stories of the past would come out...the stories of immigration, the stories of wars past, the stories of great-grandmother and great-grandfather and their parents. How could a child not listen to such stories of adventure?
This is my grandmother's sewing area in her house. She still sews for
people; it is her creative outlet. She has created her own little space here.
Pictures of all her family members line the wall and suncatchers
decorate the window close by. Chimes from the nearby church clock tell the time.
Up in the girls' bedroom are cardboard pictures, the same ones from
when my mother was a little girls. They are posters with Degas pictures.
This visit was different though. When I walked up the steps of my grandmother's house, I looked for the lightning bug jar in the eaves of the porch. It wasn't there. The porch chairs were turned over for the winter. I worried that it would be the same when I walked inside. But as I opened the door and greeted my grandmother with a hug and kiss, the memories milled about the house filling it. I wouldn't dare sit in my grandfather's old chair, but sat instead in my great-grandmother's rocking chair which seemed to welcome me. My grandmother sat in her old chair and we started to do what we always do--talk. At one point, she went up into the upstairs closets and brought back a whole roll of handmade lace. "This was crocheted by your great-grandmother, a border of some kind. Look at how intricately it is made. I often sit and wonder what she meant it for. What did she want to do with this border? What does she want me to do with it?" I took it in my hands. I wish I had an answer. I wish I had known when I was younger to talk to my great-grandmother. My grandmother is 99 years old and she had saved this lace, wondering what to do with it in a way that her mother would approve, all these years. I didn't know what to say.

A few days later, when it was time to leave, my grandmother urged me to get a book for the road. I ran down to the basement to get a book. I did find a book or two, but then, inside a box, I found a bigger mystery. I found an old picture who seemed to me to be my great-grandmother--and then a poetry volume signed to my great-grandfather from the author, his friend. "What did you want done with that lace? What were you making it for when you died?" Something special, I thought. Some special family item--a tablecloth, a big, huge tablecloth for family dinners, maybe. I didn't have time to ask my grandmother about these. Extended family members were yelling for me to get out to the car. We had to make it home before dark. I didn't have time to do anything but to click a quick picture for the future, grab hold of a mystery book, run back upstairs to kiss and hug my grandmother, and leave--too soon--once again. The visit, in many ways, was different. In many ways, it was a very difficult visit due to my relative's illness. But in many ways, it was just the same; it reminded me once again of how priceless time is--with family.