Less than a year after her death, I find myself living just 2 hours away from the town where this lady spent her childhood. Where she grew up, learned to be who she was. Where she took us several times a year. Where she and my granny filled our heads with stories of people we never knew, but whose lives had touched theirs. And by this touching, they became a part of us, as well.
It has taken me these few months to prepare myself to go there. I knew the journey was coming, and I knew that I needed it to come. I needed to do more than just drive by this town, catching a glimpse from I-70, and saying to the air, "That was my mom's hometown." I needed to go, to feel, to remember. I needed to listen to the whispers of the past and to say goodbye. I needed to go back in time so that I could move forward.
I wasn't sure where to start. The place is small, though, so there aren't really many choices. The prettiest spot in town is the cemetery. It also happens to overlook the family farm. A fitting place to start listening to voices from the past, I thought. I was the only one there, and as I wandered around looking for the names of people I knew and people I had never known, I was struck by the beauty and the peace.
We engrave "Rest In Peace" on the headstones of our loved ones, but it is our hearts that are often left searching for that peace, or even, that piece, that is missing in our lives once someone has gone. There is a vacancy where someone once resided in our hearts. It is uncomfortable to be empty. Hungry. Longing for something that we cannot have. Just one more...something...with that person. One more phone call. One more day. One more chance to say, "I love you."
As I walked the hill behind the Old Stone Church, looking at names, I was able to have "one more" with my mother. I listened as she told me again the stories of the people whose names were written there. I shed tears as I remembered. I shed more as I knew there were so many that I failed to remember. I smiled upon seeing people whose names were "Dicey Boot" and "Friend Roy." My heart was full for the family who so lovingly cast their daughter's grave marker...backwards. And I was full of good feeling as I saw the grave of a woman I had never met, but who has a cake named after her. The recipe for "Carrie Butefish Cake" is scrawled in my granny's cookbook, and it was her favorite. It was nice to finally meet you, Carrie.
After several hours of resting there, I was truly able to see the beauty of the place, the day, and the lives that had touched mine, directly and indirectly.
I moved from one cemetery to another, of sorts. The house my granny was a girl in with her brothers sits on the edge of town, a monument to a time that has moved on. I drove down the overgrown lane, climbed out of the car, and trespassed through the weeds to take a look.
I was only in this house once, when I was just a girl, right before it went for auction along with everything in it and the half of the family farm that it sat on. Each time we visited the town, we would shake our heads at the state of decay of the old house, and we would wonder at the lack of care from the new owners of the property. It always made my mother feel sad as she remembered happy times there.
For me, it has always served as a monument to history. It reminds me of the importance of preserving what we can, placing value on things that are otherwise worthless. Teaching our children to do the same. However, it also screams that this world is temporary. Time is marching on relentlessly. We cannot cling to the past. It will decay in our hands. We must look toward tomorrow.
Looking toward the future and feeling more light-hearted, I headed into town. I remembered summers spent visiting here. It was a time of innocence. My brother and I would ride our bikes to the market, money shoved into our sweaty socks, to buy a treat before heading to the playground. Happy memories broke as I saw that the park was much unchanged in the past 30 years. The same shiny metal swings were there, ready to burn the legs of any child desperate enough to swing on a sunny summer afternoon.
Nostalgic, I climbed the ridiculously steep stairs to the top of the slide. The same slide I had gone down again and again. Then I did it. I had to. I burned my butt sliding down that thing. It was worth it, just as it always had been.
Even though I was the only one at the park that day, I swear I heard the laughter of a couple of kids, visiting from out of state. I had found another something beautiful there at the playground.
The last few hours of my day there were spent finding beauty. I found that there is beauty in the harvested wheat fields.
I found that there is beauty in a patch of sunflowers growing in a ditch by the side of the dirt road that leads nowhere you thought it did.
I found that there is beauty in catching a glimpse of the creek in whose waters you waded as a child and upon whose banks your mother and her brothers started their arrowhead collection. There is beauty in the pain. There is beauty in the remembering. There is beauty in the past and in the future.
"The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." -Norman Maclean