Sunday, October 17, 2004

Today, my grandfather died. He is the last of my grandparents and it was sudden. He lived a long happy life and died peacefully. His body gave out under the stress of the surgery and post-surgery medications. The surgery was to deal with kidney and heart complications. He was on my father's side, and his wife had died almost twenty years earlier. He was in his 90's and still couldn't keep his composure when he talked about my grandmother, whom we called Mom. I know they are together now.

I hate death right now, mostly for its affect on people and the void it creates. Pop is in a good place, I know that. I'd known he been having bouts of illness and had a card ready to send to him. It sits on my table, wishing for him to get well soon. It has a silhouette of Mickey Mouse against a night sky watching shooting star and reads, "If wishing wells work, if crossed fingers count, if there's any magic in the world, you'll be feeling better soon."

I hadn't even signed it yet. So Pop, I hope you are feeling better, and riding on that shooting star.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Right now, my stepfather is on his way to Egypt.

He took me to the car repair shop this morning, then to the coffee shop where I bought him a coffee, and then to work. I got up earlier than I usually do and made it okay to work. It was incredibly nice of him to do this, especially with such a long trip ahead the same day.

He told me a bit about his trip, which includes camping a couple of nights in the middle of the desert with a group that's done this before. It's a "pilgrimage" trip, not a vacation type trip. He's going with sixteen other people. I can only imagine what the sky will look like in the desert, and the countless numbers of stars. It will be a completely different culture and way of life, where he is literally at the mercy of the trips organizers and the locals who are guides. It sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, which will not be wasted on Jack. Not many people can say they slept under the stars in the Sinai desert.

A couple weeks after grandmother died, Jack went on a trip to New Mexico. He drove through places I'd never heard of and made the entire trip to and from Baltimore in his car. The first call of the desert, I guess. He met people who still invited strangers in their houses by dropping a name they knew in common. He just recently retired and is on a soul searching mission, one that it doesn't seem that he is forcing, but one that is gently leading him by the hand. And he's going, wherever that hand is taking him. This month, it's to Egypt.

I completely know how he feels. It's a need to strip down and see who you really are. And to do that, sometimes your surroundings have to be unfamiliar. Sometimes, when surroundings are too known, things are easy to overlook. How many times have you turned to a companion in the car, or on a walk, and asked if something is new, only to have them turn to blandly tell you that it's been there for years. However, it's the first time you've noticed it.

I think self is like that sometimes. There are many parts of us that we haven't noticed, mainly because we haven't been tested in an environment where we've had to look for them. However, ask someone else, and like that sign, or tree, or building, they probably knew it was there all along. It's been a constant frustration of mine.

So Jack is going to Egypt on a quest for he not knows what. He just knows that he has to go. I'll be interested to hear what the desert whispered in his ear.

Friday, October 01, 2004

I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately. Last weekend I was walking by some stores and saw a needlepoint shop, and a pang of sadness came over me. It was closed, so I lingered, looking at all the patterns and colorful threads lining the walls. At the store display showing off a needlepointed clutch and change purse. A canvas of a tiger stared out at me from a rack of hanging canvas designs, ready for nimble fingers to take them on, and the pang stabbed again, a little deeper.

My grandmother taught me how to needlepoint, patiently teaching me the stitches and showing me how to stretch the canvas. She started me when I was around five or six years old, with a big needle and thick thread, my stitches uneven but pretty good for a five year old. I'd stitch some straight and some cross stitch, making monochromatic outlines of flowers or dogs and cats, with a single "X" for the eyes. My creations looked like crude hieroglyphics, all from the side view and with no perspective. My grandmother was proud of them nonetheless, and told me how good they were. When I was ready, we moved onto more grownup needle point, meaning smaller needles, tighter canvases, more colors and complicated stitches. We made trips to the house of friend of hers, walking up to the door and waiting outside in thick Arkansas heat. The door would open, a rush of air conditioner hit our faces and we'd be asked inside. I'd sit on the overstuffed couch with my little legs pointing straight outward and my round hoop sitting on my lap. My grandmother would sit with me or in other cases leave me there to be taught. I can't remember if some of the lessons were paid for, but I'm sure the ones where I was left with the lady and a couple other little girls were lessons that were paid for. Grandmother would return, and I'd show her what I'd done. I was also ready to shed the dress that she'd made me wear and go swimming.

As I stared into the store, so colorful and happy, I thought about all the knowledge that grandmother had about needlepoint, and how she had enjoyed it so much and shared it with me. I wondered where that knowledge had gone, now that she had passed away. Was it floating around, or did it just dissipate like steam in the air? The sad part was, that it had disappeared before that. She had suffered from Alzheimer's, and toward the end had trouble remembering a lot of things. As with all Alzheimer's sufferers, they have lucid moments, but then they have the moments like the time my grandmother looked at me and not being able to remember my name, referred to me as "one of them," meaning her grandchildren.

I know that some of that knowledge lives on in me. The appreciation for the art, the ability to do it if I want to, and I do want to. But where is the part that lived within her? It was sad to see the remnants of something she loved here on earth. The canvases that she wouldn't stitch, needles she wouldn't hold and thread she wouldn't use. Projects, that if I took it up again, I will not be able to show her. Since the store was closed, it added to the feeling of loss. With me standing on the outside, peering in at something I couldn't touch. No activity happening inside. Just still tools of the trade. Fully visible, but untouchable and unmovable. I felt as if that is how it had become to grandmother, and how grandmother had become to me. And I wondered again, where had she gone?