I’ve been feeling pretty homesick lately. I miss the drawl of where I come from. I am surrounded by cultured Southern accents or Yankee talk. I miss back roads. Dixie cups on a Saturday night. Don’t get me wrong; I love how Starbucks is five minutes away. There’s a Target down the street. Good restaurants abound, even the kind that plate your food and charge you thirty bucks a pop for two jumbo Gulf shrimp and a dab of polenta. There’s a great mall nearby.
But for the last several days, for some reason, I’ve been thinking about my mother’s parents. My grandmother didn’t talk to me much. But she smelled like Clinique and I loved her bathroom because it was always cool and she had a dainty chair in the corner. I never decided to perch on it, but it had a pink cushion that matched the tile and white, iron legs. My grandfather told us Brer Rabbit stories in bed while my grandmother made breakfast. When he hugged me, I thought my bones would crack, but he did it with such force that I couldn’t question his love.
Mostly I just liked their house. It faced the main drag going through a really small town. At night, sleeping in my mother’s old bed, I found the sound of cars and trucks going by extremely comforting. As a country girl, give me country quiet. But at their house it felt really safe. Like there were people out there besides us. At my house, the only sounds I heard at night were coyotes, the wind through the pines, insect choruses and the occasional train whistle. Those are lonesome sounds, and much of the time I didn’t mind. I am lonesome myself. We fit, those sounds and I. But every now and then, even now, as I hear a car drive past my house late at night, I think about my grandparents, and I smile.
They had pretty good money, but you’d never know it. They didn’t have a fancy house or drive luxurious cars. Where I come from, it was considered tasteful not to brag about your things. Some of the richest people I know lived modest lives and spent their money on others. Maybe that’s why I abhor ostentation and materialism now. I loved their furniture, their knickknacks. Her decidedly beautiful camellia trees. I loved the quiet. Somehow, with four kids running around, it always seemed cool and calm.
There were Cokes in a bottle in the fridge. A huge backyard to run and play in, and a creek we weren’t supposed to go near to. Snakes, you know. And a cool, papery cheek to kiss. When she let me. And a bear hug to knock the wind outta your sails any time you wanted from my grandfather. Cheese toast that my Mama never made. I only wanted it at my grandparents’ house.
Now they are both gone, like my father’s parents years ago. Last year, I stood by her bedside as she died, and the sobs wanted to rack my body. She was old; she had lived for many years not knowing where or who she was most of the time. But letting her go was so painful. The end of my childhood; the last living grandparent; only memories left. My grandfather had fairly recently preceded her. I will never have Christmas with all my cousins and aunts and uncles again, the house full to overflowing, fireworks booming at the end of the evening. I will never hear about Brer Rabbit or see such gorgeous camellias gracing her tables. I will never again lie in the bed my own mother slept in, or sit out on their patio after a day of swimming and eat Bugles and drink a cold, frosty Coke the best way possible, the sun making me drowsy and peaceful and light.
This Valentine’s Day, I reflect that love is shown in many ways. For my grandmother, it was food. Food Mama and Daddy would never let us have! It was the swimming pool and the plastic headbands at the store that only a little girl wants. For my grandfather, it was time spent talking. Thank God my parents raised us to converse, as children, to adults. She wasn’t the plump, huggy type. But I miss her. I miss her so much it makes we weep. I miss his smile, his grip. I miss my family, so far away. How much of their lives I miss simply due to distance.