Saturday, January 24, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

Went to the Highland Lodge tonight for supper with the kids. Simple, yummy fare and a foos ball table just can't be beat on a winter's night.

On our way home, we turned up the tunes and sang until our voices cracked. The kids wrestled in the back seat, best they could with seat belts and car seats (a damn nuisance, I'm sure) and it was a grand drive home. The night is crystal clear, the temp is minus 12 and the fire is roaring in the front room. Good to be home with full tummys and faded tunes in our heads.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Heart California

California, the place I still think of as home, with its smog, cars, people, sunsets, people, asphalt, tract homes, people and...the ocean.

Anyway, California. It's where my heart is. It's where my heart will always be. Sometimes I miss it so much, I feel it in my gut. I can smell the sage of the foothills where I grew up, feel the dry heat on my skin or the cool mist of the coastal fog. I miss hearing the spanish, korean, the broken english that only a native Californian can speak.

In my sleep, I hear the waves crashing, feel the cold sand on my skin from countless nights sleeping on the beach. In my mind's eye, I see the brilliant orange sunsets over the mountains, my mother's rose garden and the lemon tree we used to climb as children. In my speech, I still over use the words "awesome", "cool", "totally" and "like, you know". I put the word "the" in front of every highway, freeway and road when giving directions (as in, "take the 14 to the 15 and turn right to the 2 which will take you to Montpelier). No local would waste so much breath.

Three days after my grandmother's burial, I drove up the coast, stopping in Pacific Grove/Monterey, on my way to San Francisco where I would catch a plane back to Vermont. The highway, winding up the coast like the proverbial snake, was choked with travelers. Beautiful weather, folks in their cars, never stopping to get out and breathe in the air. Eventually, I found a spot to pull over, climbed over the barbed wire and scrambled down the side of a sandy embankment to the ocean. Sat there for a long while, just taking it in, sitting idly.

As a child, I believed that I was a mermaid. I'm a good swimmer, never afraid of the water and figured it was only a matter of time before I figured out how to breathe underwater. Eventually, as puberty set in and reality took hold, I let go of that fantasy, but to this day, still think of the ocean as my final destination to retire and rest and repose. I love that word. Repose.

As much as i wanted to, staying in that part of the world couldn't last forever. I needed to get back to my life. Back to sleepy and wonderful Vermont, where my old farmhouse waits, frozen pipes and empty of children and dog. In Vermont, where my children are going to sleep at night, without me to sing them songs or read them stories. In Vermont, where I live a good and full life that I love, in spite of being landlocked and snow bound a good portion of the year. In Vermont where I found my heart again, lost a bit of it...again, then realized it works just fine in spite of being a little beat up.

It's good to be home.

But I will always love California.

Goodnight, My Someone

Almost three weeks ago, my grandmother died. Her name was Eleanor and she was...well, she was awesome. I spent two weeks in California from the day she died until three days after we buried her.

I flew on New Year's Day, panicky with the thought she might be gone before i got there. I sat next to a man who lost his only brother to a car accident on Christmas Eve and on the other side, a young man who lost his grandfather to cephalitis on New Year's Eve. What a trio we were. We talked, we read and we slept. I awoke, just before we descended, hoping it wasn't too late.

My little sisters were there to greet me, my parents arriving minutes later. I already knew by then, my sister Hannah breaking the news when I asked and when my dad arrived with my stepmom, I cried. We arrived at the La Loma house and upon walking into the living room, walls awash in peach and surfaces gilded with Christmas decorations, I cried again. Her presence was everywhere I looked, yet her voice and smile were glaringly absent.

In the kitchen with my cousins, we ate food from plastic containers brought to us by family friends, we drank wine out of Christmas themed glasses Grandma had set out earlier in the month and we laughed and argued and cried...a lot. For the next two weeks, there were hugs and handshakes, thoughtful silences and strained conversations. We snipped paper, read sentimental poems, stamped angels and made fun of each others' photos from the was a bad decade for all of us.

We sorted through endless arrays of cosmetics and costume jewelry, each time feeling our throats tighten with every glittery tidbit flashing in the light or her perfume filling the air from an open drawer. We found small mementos to take home and treasure: metallic and bejeweled bracelets, purple scarves, lavender slippers, ceramic angels, a felted red hat. We joked and poked fun at each other...a lot. Hugged some more, cried some more, ate some more. We sang, we hummed, we cried, we laughed and yes, we cried some more. We shopped for purple outfits, ties and scarves, because she would not have wanted us to wear black to her funeral. No way.

Eventually, the flowers were picked, the hall was booked, the priest confirmed for the service, the photos were placed, the memories written down, the tables set, the programs printed, the deep purple sequined dress lovingly placed by our hands on to her body. Her hair was curled, her make-up applied with care, her rings slipped onto her beautiful hands; hands that I still see in my mind and on those of my youngest child. We sang to her, we cried, we laughed over her stories and then we cried some more.

Days later, we watched our grandfather, her husband of sixty four years, nearly collapse with grief upon seeing her body at the viewing. We hovered nervously, a box of tissue on the only seat next to him that no one dared to move or replace with our selves. Eventually, each child, grandchild and friend, quietly hugged or kissed him, squeezed his shoulder, whispered a word of comfort and love. We all knew the grief he felt...or at least a shadow of it. Soon, surrounded by children and grandchildren, we chatted to each other and to him, slowly bringing his attention to the living, if only for a brief time. We read the rosary, thanked friends, hugged each other, cried and went back to our beds to reflect.

Two days later, in front of the church where she and Grandpa were married 64 years before, her grandsons both by blood and marriage, carried her coffin up the steps, down the aisle of the sanctuary and to the front of the church. Her great-grandchildren passed out purple ribbons with golden angels and programs with her picture. We cried, we sang, we read, we sang, we cried and we laughed. We remembered her love of music, her love of family and friends, her love of God and her love for her husband. We took photos, we ate food, we sang and listened to song. We ate more, we hugged more, we cried and we laughed.

Grandma would have loved it. Every single bit...and I bet she was sorry to miss it.

Eventually, each of us slipped quietly back to our lives, to continue with living and laughing, loving and crying. Grandma lived life with gusto and warmth. She left us gifts of music and song, a smile that is repeated in every generation, a love for stories and the telling of them. She reminded us that a single life is extraordinary in the ordinary-ness of it. She will be sorely missed, everyday.

Eleanor Elizabeth Gunn Gustavson
Born September 14, 1920
Died December 31, 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009