I’m listening to The Decemberists today, thinking of places I’ve had to say goodbye to. The song I’m listening to says, “There are times life will rattle your bones and bend your limbs.” It’s appropriate in this time in which I suffer from a lack of rootedness. It’s a time of storms. Of weakness. Of resilience. I’m working in coffee shops, listening to steam hiss and alternating between green tea and coffee. I’m jacked up –a trend in my day-to-day life that has stretched on into years. I’m not a person who sits in repose often and I find myself longing for the attachment of my youth. The constant I had to say goodbye to a few years ago –my grandparents’ home and its own little ecosystem.
My parents divorced early and my mom relied on my grandparents as afterschool and summer caretakers. As children, my brother and I spent a lot of time traversing their neighborhood, and more often than not, I was barefoot while I did it. There were countless stings. Yellow jackets, honey bees, hornets. There were scuffs and scrapes and stubbed toes. I walked the hot asphalt of their street. I developed some serious callouses. I’d hurt myself and my relatives would bind me with home remedies. My grandma would strap a raw potato to a splinter at night and come morning, that sucker will have worked its way into the spud. Running, skating, biking, climbing. Dogwoods. Tulip trees. The magnificent Willow Oak in their back yard supervised a gaggle of neighborhood kids playing Dungeons & Dragons. Pop worked his earth alongside us. He would pick tomatoes when they were still a little green and place them in windowsills all through the house so they were all peppered with red. He’d tell me to be careful picking the squash; it was known to be prickly. He taught me to throw food scraps into the garden, said they’d decay and feed it. He staked pink peonies in between vegetable beds, let a hydrangea bush my grandmother’s mother had planted get as big as the carport. He filled a tree stump out front with dirt and mulch and planted cactus and marigolds in it. Many a Star Wars action figure had adventures there. We played Flash Gordon there. When we moved over the years, my grandparents stayed. They had history, place, permanence.
Some years later, an ice storm hit. The Willow Oak had been weakened by Hurricane Hugo back in the 80s and it split like a toothpick.
Some years later, my grandpa’s mind started to wander. He died on a Friday in June.
Some weeks later, I picked the last of his vegetables.
My grandmother wanted to stay in the house even after his death. We watched her rake gumballs, pull weeds, put peonies on her kitchen table, and use the corn and okra they’d put up. She wanted to stay there another fifty years but it got to be too much for her to take care of on her own, even as small as it was. Her age.
Some years later, sitting here thinking about rattled bones and bending limbs, I’m thinking of driving by if for no other reason than to see the size of that blue hydrangea.