Grandaddy’s Story

Whether the deep, greying grooves of his face marked his years of crying or his years of laughing, my respect for him reached much higher than the mournful atmosphere of the room. As I watched him slowly bring his cup of coffee to his lips, I pictured the way the spidering fissures around his eyes and the salt-and-pepper caterpillars above them illuminated guile when he would start into one of his stories, always beginning with, “This ol’ boy…” and always ending with an unuttered question, spoken only through the eyes of his listeners, regarding its credibility. There were no stories today, however. His eyes were not wily; they did not spring joy and laughter as I was accustomed. Instead, the creases around them curved downward and would act as drainage ditches to his tears, while the liveliness of his eyebrows had ceased, replaced by a perpetual furrow. He had always been somewhat of a mystery to me, a promise of revelation, unkept.

 

I tried to eat my toast, tried to remember a time my parents’ house was more somber than that day, tried to look anywhere but his eyes, tried not to wonder about his pain–all in vain. Then, as if the silence of the house acted as a key to the story locked within him, he began to speak. His voice, a Southern vernacular he often referred to as “the King’s English,” was worn and soft, almost imperceptible, but gained strength when he said her name, her very existence keeping him from crumbling.

 

“When I firs’ saw her wawkin’ down the wawkway, she was wearin’ a yella western suit; she was meanderin’ amongst the corrals, and she was the mos’ beautiful woman I had ever seen. I am usually shy and bashful around beautiful women but I jus’ had to stop her, so I stepped out and interduced myself–found out she was married, I was recen’ly divorced, as ya know. We wawrked togetha ever’ summer, and fer three months out of ever’ year, I got to be with her.”

 

He paused to take a drink of coffee, dampening his scratchy voice, tattered from years of living. I looked at him now, unable to restrain my captivation; his wrinkles had become shallower and cast less shadow on the parts of his face still untouched by age, but his eyes told me he was no longer sitting with me in the early morning hours: he was somewhere in the 1970s, dreaming of the woman I called Grandma.

20160123_114650

“Durin’ my third year at the track, she stawrted workin’ in the same area as me.” Finally, a laugh, strange because of his situation, slightly suppressed by the thickness of his grief, escaped.

 

“We had mo’ fun. There was mo’ fun and laughter thar, with ya Gramma, than any otha’ place. I never ast her for a cup of coffee; we jus’ wawrked togetha and laughed togetha. I know how to respe’t a married woman, but boy, was she a beauty. When I wasn’ with her in the summatime, I was thinkin’ about her.

 

I din’t show up for our fifth summer together cus my dad had died. She panicked, thunkin I warn’t gonna show up. When I did get thar, I found out she had been thinkin’ about me over the winter, too.” He spoke now like a teenage boy, full of hormones and promise, having just scored a prom date. “Her marriage was in trouble, and we began discussin’ seri’sly ‘bout gettin’ mawrried. When we decided ta get married, I ast her if she went to church. She said, ‘No, I’m a Heathen.’”

 

The creases on his forehead had vanished now as he remembered a time when his skin was as unsullied as his love for her.

 

“I wull never foget that. When I ast her if she would go ta church wit’ me when we were mawrried, she said, ‘Sure, what church do you go to?’ The look on her face when I told her I was Southern Baptis’ was nuthin’ I’d ever seen: I coun’t help but laugh out loud. I dunno what she had heard about Southern Baptists, but it coun’t have been good.”

 

Now, he inhaled the motionless air, laden with the unmistakeable scent of coffee grounds, trying to acknowledge the reality that surrounded us. Then, he finished his story with the only certainty in his life,

 

“She came wit’ a lot of baggage, and I din’t know how much she had ‘til we were mawrried. I had to pay a lot of her firs’ husband’s bills. It din’t matter though, she was wort’ it. She’s still wort’ it.”

 

Up until this moment, my Grandaddy was a riddle I was always trying to solve. It became clear as he told me that long awaited story of irrefutable love that he was in fact a very simple man, controlled by a love still stainless and unrelenting even in the midst of death, a love many will never know.

Advertisements

The Mountains are Calling

They call to me.

These words dripping out of my mom’s mouth with the perfect mixture of longing and satire, just enough to make you wonder if she’s serious, have fallen on my ears since long before my long, sea of curls covered them. As my mom dreamed of her adult life, perched atop some Rocky Mountain boulder measuring 17,000 times bigger than the largest pebble North Dakota has to offer, raising her kids in the harsh, uninteresting landscape of North Dakota is not what she had in mind. The smell of the mountain ground after an unexpected dusting of rain or the taste of the mountain breeze whipping through her hair, ears, face has never been far from my mom’s mind. It’s her secret that she was never able to conceal– the mountains call to her.

You’d never appreciate them.

These words, while I lived in my mom’s house, justifying my own love for North Dakota — its lack of curves, failure to thrive, abhorrence for natural growing trees, its unwavering commitment to performing its duty as the runt of the 50 state litter — surely all of these facets are the basis for my esteem and deep appreciation of the majesty of the Rockies. Every summer and Christmas I gazed upon those mountains from my grandma’s porch, never failing to be struck by their mystery. How they cast a shadow upon the ground long before dusk, daring you to challenge them for more sunlight. Their complete unfamiliarity, their ruthlessness, their only weakness being their powerlessness to forgive– all made me feel lonely as I craned my neck to look at them, my grandma’s laughter echoing from the conversation I had left back at a place of recognition.

Mountains 1

A view similar to the one from my grandma’s back porch – The Grand Mesa in Colorado

I miss the mountains.

These words, never a surprise, impressively squeezed into unrelated conversation weeks after our re entry to my amenable horizontal, untouched land. As I sighed with my love for the land, the predictable monotonous drone of the landscape much like the sound of an old car on a curveless highway never failed to comfort me like a warm quilt, despite the barrenness of its usual below freezing temperature. This same comfortable barrenness seemed to seep into my mom’s bones like the frost settles into the cracks of the earth, giving me something to watch as she battled against it until the first thaw.

You need to get over it.

These words, meant only to encourage, highlight my naivety of her desire to live, yet again, under their grandeur, dwarfed by their endless precipices. Her inhospitality for her new Northern climate, my indefinite domain I was sure, was consistent with the inhospitable environment she had left behind, as if she had learned from the mountains how to never accept, never embrace. Her nostalgia never diminished, just concealed itself behind the transient North Dakota summer, acting as a fugitive, making my mom the pursuer.

The mountains are calling.

 
This time my mom is 200 miles away dreaming of her own mountains. These words escape my mouth in a single exhalation of bloated, hungry breath, like the desperate grunt of my son seconds before tears race down his cheeks. A familiar, yet for years unseen, Colorado trip impending at the end of the week, my longing for the mountains is not unlike my mom’s. The reason for it, however, is as distant from hers as the miles between her home state and mine, and more difficult to define. It could be the mountains I miss, never fully drinking in their intoxication when I had the chance, because of my loyalty to my futile land. Or could it be the breath of my grandma, the inexplicable smell of her house which seems to lie dormant in my nose years later, striking a memory at inconvenient times as if imploring me to remember her, the way her house convinced me my childhood would exist in perpetuity, that her laughter would always be there–I believe that it is likely this I miss, the enduring mountains serving only as a kind of mockery for a limited life.

The Progression of Christmas

 

 

When I was a young child,

Christmas was magic.

It was twinkling lights,

waiting for sleep that wouldn’t come,

listening for the footsteps of Santa.

Christmas was Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch.

It was a look of longing,

brought on by the heap of gifts.

It was decorations, blinking angels, and wrapping paper.

Christmas was impatience and anticipation;

when would Grams and Granddaddy finally arrive?

Christmas was Santa,

presents, blissful ignorance.

 

When I was a teenager,

Christmas was Grams and Granddaddy.

It was a 19 hour drive,

getting ahead of the blizzard,

or staying behind it.

Christmas was Colorado,

mountains, skiing.

It was the dog’s gas problem,

Grams lighting a match.

It was the smell of coffee,

the smell of Grams’ perfume,

her hairspray.

Christmas was poker,

beating the unbeatable,

Granddaddy.

Christmas was shopping,

with Grams,

the only one who mattered.

Christmas was Grams and Granddaddy.

 

When I was a college student,

Christmas was the desire for ignorance.

It was denying what we knew,

this would be her last.

It was saying goodbye,

to her perfume, her laugh,

her singing clock.

It was the longing for the past,

the fake smiles,

Christmas was my nephew,

his brand new life,

while an old one faded.

It was subdued,

Christmas was different.

 

When it was the year after,

Christmas was new traditions.

It was North Dakota,

the longing for what was.

Christmas was her decorations,

her ornaments,

without her.

It was reminiscing,

her tears,

brought about by uncontrollable laughter,

her Bronco games, her flavorless chili.

It was making the best of it,

new life, nieces and nephews.

Christmas was their happiness,

their gifts, their ignorance.

 

When I was a young adult,

Christmas was my future husband.

It was eagerness,

my first Christmas gift to him,

the first of many.

It was wedding preparations,

dreams of a white dress and red heels.

It was honeymoon plans,

flowers, and invitations.

It was the torment of the stomach flu,

attacking each of my family members.

Christmas was nerf gun wars;

it was card games.

Christmas was my last as a single woman.

 

Now that I am a mom,

Christmas is my son.

It is his happiness,

his gifts, his traditions.

It is his first snowfall,

keeping him away from the tree,

broken ornaments.

It is my little family,

looking at the lights,

someday they will mean magic for my son.

It is gift giving, Operation Christmas Child,

Salvation Army, running errands,

cooking, cleaning, church events.

Christmas is grocery shopping.

Christmas is busy.

 

Christmas is many things.

It can be lonely, exhilarating,

worrisome, and joyful.

It only has one constant.

Christmas is Jesus Christ.

It is the nativity,

O Holy Night, Away in the Manger;

It is Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem,

and shepherd boys.

Christmas is service to Him,

seeking Him, thanking Him.

It is because of Him.

It is for Him.

Christmas is Jesus Christ.

 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.

~Luke 2:11Christmas

Precocious.

Oh good. It’s 3 a.m. I think that he may have slept for 2 straight hours this time. Maybe if I lie here as still as my husband in his deep, undisturbed sleep I will not have to get up. I should have about two hours of night left before I have to be awake for the day. It looks like I will be spending those two hours dozing in the La-Z-Boy in my son’s nursery. I will get up on the count of three before his screams get any louder…1…2…3….

20151204_152440

My baby does not sleep. I am not being melodramatic. My son literally does not sleep. He hates naps. He hates nighttime. He hates being rocked. He hates his crib. On the rare occurrence that the idea of sleep enters his 8-month old mind, he will fight it and fight it until he wins. He always wins. Sleep NEVER wins. I think he is going to be a boxer. A successful one. Oh goodie. I am entirely convinced that minions occupy my son’s crib, we will call them cribions, making it impossible for my son to fall asleep. Perhaps they look something like Santa’s elves and do something like build toys in the middle of the night which consequently causes my child to scream louder than the pounds of their hammers. Perhaps they simply act as his friends, so he must wake up in the darkest of hours to visit with them, then when they fall asleep, he gets bored and consequently screams for me to keep him company.

His pediatrician has been kind enough to call him precocious. If you ask Webster, precocious means “unusually advanced or mature in development, especially mental development.” Isn’t that nice of her to say about my little baby genius? Although, I know what she really means. I know what is underneath that somewhat patronizing smile of hers. She is saying, “Oh you poor dear!” I get that smile pretty frequently from mothers of various backgrounds. It is a smile that says, “Well, he is certainly going to keep you busy.” Or she may be saying, “I don’t envy you one bit.” Or even worse, “I wonder how tired you will be once he is a toddler.” Precocious. A compliment shrouded in ominous mystery.

I have tried just about everything to get him to close his eyes, aside from tying my hands behind my back, standing on my head, while simultaneously doing air jumping jacks, but if that would work, I would do it. I have spent the night with him in his crib while I sleep and he tugs on my hair, ears, eyebrows, eyelids, and lips. I have listened to his shrieks for hours while my husband and I attempt to accomplish the dreaded ferberizing, also known as sleep training. I have strapped him in his car seat and driven around the block roughly 6,208 times. I have set him in the middle of the living room with every toy in our house and let him play. I have turned on the TV hoping it would hypnotize him to sleep. I have cuddled with him in my own bed. I have stripped him down and wrapped him in the softest of blankets. I have tried tough love. I have tried soft love. I have tried this. I have tried that. I have tried everything, and now I sound like Dr. Seuss.

The result: my son does not sleep.

There are moments when it is funny. There are moments when his complete, unwavering commitment to hating sleep is downright hilarious. When my husband and I look at each other and simply smile because we can’t wait to see what he will try next. There are also moments when I feel like I have fallen right off the sane wagon and plunged headfirst into crazy loon mom. I can see in my husband’s eyes how terrified he is that someday I will not find my way back from the pure, unadulterated and unhinged animal that I morphed into the night before.

I know that I am not alone, but I also know that in the loneliest hours of the night when my husband is sleeping so soundly he may as well be on another planet, I become entirely convinced that my baby is the only 8-month old who still screams on a nightly basis, similar to how I would if I were to be chased around by a clown holding cilantro (I hate clowns… and cilantro). I have prayed a lot of prayers in my day, but my desperate and heartfelt entreaties to God to just let my kid go back to sleep have no doubt become a bit repetitive.

 

In my small, human mind, it appears as though God never answers these prayers. My son always keeps screaming. It is usually during my 27th prayer of the night that I imagine God looking down on me with some Joker-type smile as he rubs his hands together and laughs like a hyena. He just never seems to hear me, so I never seem to sleep. However, on the night that I am fraying at every end, on the night that I can’t take one more second of my screaming son, God answers. He does not stop the screaming, but he provides me with a moment of clarity, a moment of peace. He reminds me that my son belongs to Him. Because of my precocious little boy, I never get to cuddle him. He is way too busy to bother with cuddles. Except, in the middle of the night, when all he wants is his mom to be awake with him, the cuddles are the best of the best. They are so good that when he does finally fall asleep, I have to force myself to do the same, because I would much rather stare into the face of the beautiful baby that God is giving me the opportunity to raise. This is when I can hear the whisper of my Lord and He is saying, “Tara, enjoy my gift.” That is His answer to my 27th prayer.