My mom is in town. For some people that is probably not really a big deal. I have lots of friends who see their mothers at least weekly and a few who see or talk to their moms every day. My mom and I, however, haven’t lived in the same state for 28 years and have only seen each other about 8 or ten times since I was 14. We don’t exactly have the mother-daughter relationship that Hallmark dreams of.
What we do have is my 97-year-old grandmother who is seriously declining health. As hard as it is to see my grandmother, who has always been a major force to be reckoned with becoming meeker every day, it has brought my mom and I much closer. She’s actually been back to visit three times in the last 18 months. Each time she comes to stay with my grandmother for a week or two, I take my kids up to visit with them.
The trip up is always a bit odd for me. Not because my mom and I have a strained and complicated past that we both sort of pretend doesn’t exist, but because my grandmother still lives in the same tiny (and I do mean tiny) town both my mom and dad grew up in. While I only lived in the town for the first year or two of my life, it is still a place flooded with memories for me as two sets of grandparents, my great grandmother and various aunts and uncles lived there throughout my childhood. It’s a place where I used to go to the Labor Day carnival which I thought was spectacular, but also terrifying. One of my earliest memories is of my youngest aunt, who is only 10 years older than me, in a cast after her seat on the swing ride (you know the one that tilts and turns as riders fly up in the air) broke and sent her uncontrollably airborne.
The town also has the community center my family meets at every year to celebrate Christmas together. Sure, we usually celebrate a week or two after the actual holiday, but I come from a family of paramedics and firefighters who often had to work on holidays, so we’ve never been huge sticklers to the date itself.
On the main road through town, which houses every business in the actual town is the park where we took pictures when I was the maid of honor at my aunt’s wedding. There is “The Little Store,” a convenience store so small it’s hard for more than three people to be in it at the same time, where my dad used to stop and buy me treats.
Driving down the main road, I can still see the charred remains where my great-aunt’s apartment used to be. I’m not actually sure apartment is the right word for it, but she always called it her apartment building. And it was hers. She owned the property. Only a small portion of it faced the main road. The rest of it was on the street behind the main thoroughfare. There was a lovely garden with a tiny bridge over a tiny creek. There were raspberry bushes she’d let me stuff myself on. There was a giant balcony that ran the entire length of the second floor of the building that I could run around and play on. I know she had a few small apartments that she rented to people, but she and my uncle owned a rather massive two story apartment that had a secret passage way behind a giant picture of the Virgin Mary. The passage way actually led into the shop that she owned (but rented out) which was on the main drag. I think it was a Christian bookstore, which might explain the picture. I can’t recall her ever actually being religious.
The town also houses the cemetery where my dad, my step-mother and my little brother are buried. I cannot make a trip to see my grandmother without passing it and every time I do, the wound opens back up for a bit. Since my parents’ deaths, I don’t go to my home town anymore. There’s no reason to. No one else in my family lives there. My parents’ house, which was not the one I grew up in was sold off a few years ago and I have no desire to see someone else living there. I have a few high school friends who still live in the area, but we keep in touch over social media and haven’t met up in a decade or so. Which means I can avoid the pain I know would come from being back there.
But I can’t avoid my grandmother (not that I want to). So every time I see her, I am thrown back to my childhood. And when I get to that cemetery, all I can feel is the ache of a little girl missing her daddy.