August 21, 2012

i held so many people in my suitcase heart


I’m wearing a belt of mom’s that I saved, but have never tried on. It’s an American Airlines one, thin and black, and the buckle is an oval with a silver eagle on the front, just the kind that hooks into a hole in the belt. The first time I wrap it around me, I see right away which holes are worn and stretched and which are not. Her waist fit my waist. Or really, mine fits hers.

It’s such a contradiction to me. We people leave such traces behind. The space between my hands fitting that belt, and her hands twenty years past fitting that belt, is just a heartbeat apart. A home packed, filled wall to wall and page to page with newspaper trimmings and shreds of loopy handwriting. So many objects treasured and tucked away by so many pairs of hands before us, and clutched tight to our chests for a little longer. Shoes broken in and relaxed to fit a particular pair of feet. A scarf still smelling faintly of someone’s perfume. A recipe printed in a church cookbook with penciled notes and adjustments from experiments gone awry somehow. Our markings are everywhere, whether or not we are mindful of who will read and touch and smell them when we’re gone. Sometimes it’s the things we take such care to preserve, and other times it’s the note from the doctor jotted down by the phone, just as easily thrown away as enshrined by someone else.

It’s a wave of comfort, followed closely by a wave of grief for the gift that’s left for me to hold on to, while knowing how insufficient it is to replace the person. It’s a treasure in the same moment that is also a weak reflection and a fragment.

How can a thing be so important, so so important, and a breath later, just another thing?

August 20, 2012

inheritance, part 3

7/14 – 7/15

We talk about how Grandmama was such a pack rat, especially the infamous newspaper clippings. They were, and are, everywhere: tucked in every book, layered with cookbooks, in every box and basket, lining drawers. Anything of interest to her, or to someone she thinks might like it. 

But I realize after a little while, that I love this about her, because it’s a sign of how much she still loved learning—never quit learning. Her mind was always scanning for new information, filing things away to use sometime in the future, adding to her physical and mental collection of ideas and facts. The inquisitiveness outweighs the tangible clutter.

600 miles away, in a hotel parking lot, we roll up the door of the truck and the smell just about knocks me over. It isn’t foul. It’s already serving as a time machine, and is an on-switch for emotions and memories and mental images, in less than a second. It smells like dust and stale books and rotting wood—it smells like the garage. I can hear the back door screech open and slam closed. I can feel the humid air wrap around me with my first inhale. Why are smells so memory-linked? I can remember keeping a stuffed animal of Aunt Lucy’s, and liking the way it smelled; certain clothes of Mom’s smelled like her for a while, too. But those have faded over time. I hope these things retain their scent for a little while.

August 17, 2012

inheritance, part 2


 I have a fuller and deeper understanding of inheritance now.  I’m really overwhelmed by the weight of it, and I feel inadequate to hold it and carry it. It’s just this gift, for no reason other than that I was born and others died. Like it was this sacred gift. I’m grateful and undeserving.

It’s the closest, most literal handing down of grace I have experienced. The feeling of total inadequacy and total thankfulness together. Obviously, I should do something. I should be saying more and responding, but that’s not required. All I can do is say thank you, but in a way, there’s no reason to. I couldn't if I tried.

August 15, 2012

inheritance, part 1

We dig through photographs and newspaper clippings and scraps of yellowed paper. Everyone looks vaguely like someone else. This nose, that hair. The front page of the newspaper one day in 1934, when Bonnie and Clyde were killed—tucked into a Bible.  I find myself a little in awe of the idea that 100 years ago, none of these people could have imagined that their blood relatives would be sitting in this living room, on their furniture, studying their faces and their handwriting. 100 years from now, who knows who will be looking at our pictures (there will be more to choose from) and wondering about our lives, of which most of the minutae and details have been lost. 

August 14, 2012

for my family

6/16 - 6/18

 It’s not strange for a tall mustachioed man to walk in, wearing cowboy boots, a belt buckle the size of a dollar bill, and a leather vest, his white cowboy hat in hand to pay his respects. In a way, combining visits for losses ten years apart. “Your mother was a lovely woman. Always a lady. Thought of her when I drove through Arlington Heights once, on a route from Joliet.” I get the sense he might have been too shy to ever have carried on a whole conversation with her when they were young, but maybe admired her from afar.

We’re gathered in the small, square room and it feels like there should be more of us. (Is our family really this small?) There is an American flag draped over the bottom half of the closed casket. I’m glad somebody thought of that.

Grandaddy wears what Dad says he saw him wear to every important event—navy blazer, khakis, bright red tie. His shock of white hair still fuller than you’d expect any 92-year-old man to have. Rachelle shoved a dollar in his hand on the way out, as he was always shoving money in our hands as we left. “I thought a twenty would make him too mad.”

Mr. Crawford came in to town especially to prepare him, and mentioned that his hands were still remarkable, especially when it came to golf: so strong and capable and powerful, and at the same time so delicate and gentle.

His hands were an unforgettable part of him (like his melting-satellite-dish ears)—thick and rough, their backs speckled and textured like the back of a hundred-year-old-whale. (or something equally spotted, hairy, rippled, and multicolored) I don’t remember his young-man-hands, so the old hands are the ones I know. His thumb tips curved out just a little, maybe by nature, maybe fine-tuned for golf.

I still expect half-cigars lying forgotten on any given surface, even though he hasn’t chewed them for years.  Even as he grew quieter lately, I still keep glancing over to his chair because that was where he should be. Expected the white shock of hair, the glint of his glasses, the scuff of worn loafers, the priceless sideways shots of wisdom that lost their spark if repeated in any voice other than his own. There's no point in quoting him if you never knew him, and can't hear his voice in your head, saying it himself.

He did always sign his cards and letters and sweet notes: "Himself."