• A Letter To One Of My Greatest Loves

    November 2nd, 2012

    Tomorrow I’m attending my 99-year old grandma’s memorial service in Santa Barbara. She is one of my greatest loves, so I decided to repost my love letter to her:

    My grandma Ellen turned 99 today, July 2nd 2012. She was born in Wakeeny, Kansas, Trego County, July 2, 1913.

    We celebrated with wine and cake. I lay in bed with her last night holding her birdlike, blue-veined, sun-spotted hand, the one that milked cows on her family farm of a bone-chilling November morn circa 1920.The one that held her mother close after her father made the morning coffee then ended his life with a shotgun to the head in their barn in 1932.

    The one that bore my grandpa Maurice’s wedding band on her ring finger in May of 1934.

    The one that swaddled my infant mother in September of 1941, just three months before America and her husband went to war.

    The one that helped me catch my first Bluegill at Cachuma Lake in the summer of ’70 at the tender, bloodthirsty age of 5.

    The hand that was there to hold mine through my parents’ divorce and their remarriages, some for better, some for worse.

    The hand that stroked my hot, sunburned 6, then 7, then 12-year-old brow as she whispered the Lord’s Prayer in my ear at bedtime in her house on the frog-symphony creek. Her God is the only one I’ve ever fully known.

    She’s tiny as a child now. Her mind works in a circular pattern, the neuron pathways in her brain iterating the same frustrating ritual over and over again.  “I need to get dressed.”  “Grandma, it’s 4:30 a.m.”  “I need to get dressed.” “Grandma, it’s 5 a.m.” “I need to get dressed.” “Yes, I’ll dress you.” “What time is it?” “5:30 a.m.” “That can’t be right.” “Your microwave clock says so.” “Oh.”

    Then, just when I’m mentally checking out, she surprises me by singing an old Gogi Grant folk song I’ve never heard her sing before even though we’ve tended many a campfire together in my 47 years. Even though her third and best and last husband, Ned “Rusty”Allred was a cowboy who worked the last cattle drive from Utah into California during the days of the open range.

    Her tremulous voice rises to meet the tune:

    The wayward wind is a restless wind

    A restless wind that yearns to wander

    And he was born the next of kin

    The next of kin to the wayward wind

    In a lonely shack of a railroad track

    He spent his younger days

    And I guess the sound of the outward-bound

    made him a slave to his wander’n ways

    Oh I met him there in a border town

    He vowed we’d never part

    Though he tried his best to settle down

    I’m now alone with a broken heart

    And the wayward wind is a restless wind

    A restless wind that yearns to wander

    And he was born the next of kin

    The next of kin to the wayward wind.

    My grandma’s singing voice is imbued with a mournful beauty. She sings me through the Kansan Dust Bowl, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, her father’s suicide, the many roads she’s ventured down throughout This Land and sits me down at the troubled knee of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. She and I have traveled “a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, a hundred miles, Lord I’m one hundred miles away from home.” Together.

    She is my touchstone. My angel. My Northern Star. The blood from Bohemia, Czechslovakia that sings in me. I don’t fully know it now – because you have always been there – but I will miss you, I will miss you, I will miss you when you’re gone.

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    8 comments > Write one

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss, lovely one. xxoo

    2. Lady Jennie says:

      This is beautifully written and so poignant. She is beautiful, and yes – I see the resemblance.

    3. B. says:

      I am a lurker, and everytime I read this it brings me to tears. it is so beautifully written…

      my grandma has parkinson’s and the more we go on in life, the bigger signs of it I see.

      to imagine the life she has lived is amazing, and I love the stories she tells me.

      I know one day I won’t be able to hear them anymore, so I try and enjoy it while I can. losing her is one of my biggest fears.

      your grandma lived such a long, amazing life. what a wonderful woman

    4. I’m so sorry for your loss, Shannon. Did you know I’m from Hays, Kansas and my father was the head of the drama department, professor at Fort Hays University for 30 years? Hays is my home town and like your grandmother, my Dad also committed suicide. Small world.

      Love to you and your family.

    5. Beautiful, beautiful tribute to your grandmother.

      BTW, I’m a devout blog sleuther, and your writing/style is superior to all. Seriously…

      Keep on keepin’ on.

    6. Jennifer says:

      So sweet. You were (or are- I think grannies come around now & again for a visit♥) lucky to have each other.

    7. Carol D says:

      Now that I’m a granny (yes, I know, I’m only 52) I can only hope that my granddaughter some day will feel the love like you did from your granny.

    8. Caryl says:

      What a great tribute to your grandma.
      Hugs,
      Caryl

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