There is so much that I no longer understand about the world. I’m not sure what happened. It seems that most of my life, I had certain things in place. For years and years, the pillars of my foundation surrounded me, grounded me, protected and guided me. For many years, my life was very much based on the examples of my past and the people who held great influence over me. My great-grandparents and my grandparents were sturdy, sensible people. They cared for their land, their families, their church, and their God. The did nothing to excess. I would not think that I am not wrong in assuming that when their heads hit the pillows each night, they did not begin to wrestle with their personal demons, but instead, they drifted off to sleep imagining the chores of farm-life that would await them the next day.
My great-grandparents raised three fine children in the big stone farmhouse. There was a well pump in the kitchen with a tin cup for all to drink from the cold icy water. You could see the little hen house from the kitchen window, and Grandma would take her towel-lined basket out each morning to collect the eggs. Look a little to the left, and you would see the horses standing by the barnyard fence waiting from Great Grandpa to come feed them. Beyond that was the hog lot, a field for the cows, and rows and rows of sparkling cornfields. More often than not, there would be a tall chocolate cake waiting under a glass dome on the sideboard.
On the day of Great Grandma’s funeral, I walked the path from the church back to the big stone house holding Great Grandpa’s hand. He had sought me out. He asked me to leave with him. I wasn’t much older than Lola at the time. It was after the funeral, and everyone had gathered in the church parlor for the funeral luncheon. Great Grandpa told me that he couldn’t stand to see them all visiting as if it were just any old day. He had lost the love of his life. He wanted to mourn, not pretend that everything would be OK. It was then that I realized that it was sometimes OK for everything NOT to be OK.
We walked silently along until we reached the edge of the fields. There was a fence with a large swinging wooden gate. Most times it was closed and would have to be swung open to let the tractor and wagons into the field. Sometimes the cows were in this field. On this day, however, the gate stood open. Bright spots of green were just beginning to poke through the early spring soil. He took me through the gate to where a lush patch of clover was growing. We stopped and he stood looking down at the cushion of clover while he told me how much Great Grandma had loved this particular spot on the farm. He said she would come down here and sit like a girl among the clover looking for a lucky four-leafed clover. His blue eyes twinkled and his face crinkled into a smile as he remembered. She had found many lucky clovers on her years here on the farm. He took me back to the house and showed me a bible where hundreds of lucky clovers had been pressed between the pages.
Great Grandpa and I wandered all over the farm that afternoon. He had not told anyone that he was leaving the church or that he was taking me with him. My dad and my grandpa spent some time looking for us, and I will always remember the look of relief mixed with curiosity when my dad finally found us. He didn’t say much, didn’t ask questions, he simply joined Great Grandpa and I on our walk around the family farm. I can still remember the warmth I felt standing between those two men.
The memory of that day is one of the happiest, saddest, and strongest memories of my life. Great Grandpa passed something down to me that day. I felt the strength of his love and the importance of remembering those we have lost. We may lose the person who dwelled by our side on this earth, but we never lose the memories of the love we shared. Now these people are all gone from my life. Great Grandpa lays by his wife’s side. My Grandparents are on the hill below their feet. Dad lies next to them all. The strength of their guiding influence still resonates strongly through my life, but all too often, I feel that I have let them down. The family potion of strength, courage, and integrity seems to have been watered down in me. While my great grandparents were a hardy stout, most times, I feel more like a tepid weak lemonade. That is what I am working on. I need to become a better me not only to honor the memory and strength of those who have come before me, but so that someday, I will be able to pass this along to those who follow in my footsteps.
I’m not sure why I am remembering all of this today. Maybe it’s because I am watching my own children as they begin to take steps down their own paths, paths that they have chosen for themselves. I feel a sense of pride and wonder as I watch them forging their own lives. I look at T and I marvel at all we have faced, and conquered, together. I see the age in his face and wonder where the boy I once knew has gone. I look in the mirror, and I know he must see the same thing. I feel old, and proud, and sad, and elated all mixed together. I feel the baton being passed, and it feels heavy in my hand. This is no longer Great Grandpa’s family, or Grandpa’s, or Dad’s, it is now mine. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Once here, and now they are gone. Once young, and now I am getting old. Once children, and now adults.
Inside, I don’t feel much different now than I did as that little girl in the pink dress and black patent leather shoes holding her Great Grandpa’s hand. I trusted where he led. He was the guide, and I followed. Now it is up to me. There is no guide for this part of my life – only the lessons I’ve been taught and the love I have been so generously given.