Monday, March 13, 2017

Connecting the dots

The canyon road where Grandma spent years herding cattle with her family.
They had a small home near here where they stayed during the summer months.
My grandma Rhoda is always on my mind this time of year. It was 6 years ago in February the she died, and we share April for our birthday month, so she’s in my thoughts lately. On Saturday we were driving south on I-15 from Brigham City. I thought of how many times she must have driven on that road between her family home in Portage and her home to the south. I like seeing the untouched landscape, knowing that I am seeing exactly what she saw in the sunset on the water or the jagged cuts in the skyline created by mountains unchanged by time. I wondered how she felt driving south in December 1941. My grandpa had a new job in St George. She was moving from the very northern border of Utah to the very Southern border. She was about 6 months pregnant with her first baby. I always imagined the move to be exciting, but last week I realized how terrified she must have been, pregnant and leaving her family and all she had known to live in a desert far from her green mountain home. I wonder if she knew that her life path would never really bring her home again. Her mom came to St. George a few months later to be there when the baby came, but the due date came and went, and Great-Grandma left before the delivery. How devastatingly lonely that must have felt watching Great-Grandma drive away with such a huge life event literally looming in front of her.
Grandma (9 months pregnant and) hiding behind her mother who was visiting and waiting for the baby to arrive.
Grandma and Grandpa moved a lot in St. George. They’d just get settled somewhere in a rented house, and the owner would return from the war, so they’d move to another home. 17 years later my grandpa was reassigned to Lehi. Again, she had to leave her home where she had finally made friends and fit into the community only to carve out a place in new town. So they began again, moving all around their new town as needs and budgets and plans changed.

If you haven’t moved a lot, you can’t imagine how it feels to be somewhere completely new. While fresh starts can be exciting, there is lot of not-exciting mixed in. There are no familiar faces at church, you know no one at the library, no one at the grocery store, no one at the elementary school, no one on your kid’s sports teams, no one. The roads are unfamiliar, the stores are different, the climate and the soil and the air and even the water---all unfamiliar and requiring an adjustment. Usually you move into a place where people already have a routine of life, and they flow around you. There you are, everyone else in their natural rhythm going the places they usually go, while you turn in circles because you really can’t get a feel for which way North is in this new terrain of earth and people. Even when a few faces become familiar, they still gravitate to where they have always been and not necessarily to you. It is HARD.

Grandma with her father and all 7 sisters.
I spent a few days in 2003 interviewing my grandma and 4 of her sisters. It was the best time ever. They are delightful together, each so beautiful and unique. They told a story of one time when the sisters were traveling to visit a brother in California. They had planned to stop in St. George for lunch with Grandma. The only problem was when they got to her house, Grandma wasn’t home. They let themselves in (who locked the doors in those days?). When grandma still didn’t show for a while they made themselves some sandwiches and went on their way. They didn’t call, after all they were sitting right next to her phone. However they did call when they got to California. Grandma had been home after all. The real problem was that Grandma had moved to a new home in town. Either the sisters had forgotten or Grandma hadn’t told them. They laughed until they cried as they remembered that day, thinking of the poor person at the old home who must have wondered who in the world brought a half-dozen people into their home and freely ate of all their food. I hope they at least cleaned up after themselves.
 A quick glance at my memory of that day show Grandma laughing with the rest of them, just not nearly as much; she’s still touched with a sadness at the memory. How she must have looked forward to their visit. Knowing her, I’m sure she thought for at least a week about what to serve for lunch. Maybe she even saved a little of the month’s grocery budget to make the afternoon extra special. I imagine her setting the food out, glancing out the window, then sitting on the porch for a while, waiting to wave at her siblings as they pulled up---familiar faces and embraces in the unfamiliar landscape of her new home. She probably called her mom to find out if they left home on time or what the holdup could be. Then after a while she probably put the food back in the fridge, wondering what happened, aching for what she imagined the afternoon would have been if they had come.

It IS a funny story, but she never really told her side of the story. I don’t think 50 years had managed to completely erase how she felt that afternoon.  Google says that it would take more than five and half hours to travel to St. George from Portage at today’s speeds on today’s freeways and highways. I imagine back then it would have been close to a 7-hour trip or more, so I don’t think visits with any family would have happened more than once or twice a year. Phone calls were long-distance, and no one had money to spare at the time. She must have been so lonely. That visit would have been the highlight of her month, maybe even the year.
After Grandma moved to Lehi she cut at least four hours off the drive time and saw her family more. They came to her home, and she drove up to see her mom and siblings often. But going home is never the same after you leave. Things change starting the day you drive away. Your parents remodel or move, neighbors change, scenery changes, and even if all of that doesn’t change, you change. You change so much that the piece you carved out for yourself all of your early life somehow isn’t the right shape or size for you now, even when it once fit so seamlessly. Suddenly what once was all you knew, is somehow just  a faded portion of a book you read a few years ago---you recognize it, but it just isn’t the same. That disconnect between what was and what is creates a hollowing feeling that deepens at a rate equal to the size of the ever-growing division of reality.

When Grandma couldn’t drive because of age and eyesight, we drove her to see her family. In her older years it wasn’t as easy for her to travel, so she counted down the days until they were coming to see her. When they were coming she told all of our family of the expected visit, and we all looked forward to arrival. If the sisters were ever late or left earlier than she had imagined they would leave, she was visibly upset for a few days. We always thought it was strange that she was so affected by their comings and goings.
Grandma and Grandpa with 5 of her sisters on their 50th wedding anniversary.

When I interviewed Grandma in 2003 I didn’t know that my life for the next 12 years would match hers with lots of moves and lots of new people and lots of miles between home and HOME. I think I get it now, why their visits affected her so much. Grandma loved visiting her hometown, but even more, she loved it when her family came to see her. When you move a lot, your life is divided in pieces of “when we lived in this house” or “when we lived in that house.” You kind of live a lot of different lives, almost becoming a different you each time you move because you evolve somewhat depending on friends and circumstance and the passing of time.

I remember the day Kyle was baptized. We had moved four months earlier, and we had lunch at our new home after the service. Our parents and most of our siblings and their families were here. Some of our old friends from other cities came. I looked around at each of their faces, and for the first time in months, I felt like I was actually in my own home.

Family is the connecting piece. No matter where you live or which home you are in, it can sometimes feel like a stop along the way. But when your parents and siblings are with you in your home, they somehow connect the dots and make you whole. They are the constant path of people who have always known you---all of the yous from all of the places. Somehow they center you; they are evidence that life actually has continued from place to place---the constant in a life that has lacked familiar consistency: the true north we were seeking all along.


1 comment:

  1. This was wonderfully written. I enjoyed thinking about how things must have been back then. Very insightful.