Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Notebook

I was okay until I saw the notebook.

My sisters and I recently travelled to a tiny, picturesque little town in Northern Wisconsin to visit my Auntie Carol. Maybe you remember her...I've written about her before.

Throughout our lives, she was really more like a grandmother to us, just as she had been more like a mother to my mother. She was 17 years old when her only sister entered the world and she was tickled to death. She lavished my mother with love and attention. They formed a bond that was was uncommonly strong, even for sisters. There are more photos of the two of them than there are of  my mother with either my grandmother or grandfather. They were inseperable, even when my Aunt had children of her own.

She was absolutely devastated when my mother died. She never expected to have to say goodbye to her baby sister and it was almost more than she could bear. My own grief over my mother's death was compounded by watching her mourn. It broke my heart to see her grieve so deeply. And I could do absolutely nothing to heal the pain of losing someone who had been like another self for 65 years.

"And do you know..." she said, in her still girlish Auntie voice, a voice that will stay with me long after time has blurred the lines of her face and stolen the smell of her, "....in all those years, we never had a fight."

She cried then, which unnerved us all. The women of my family don't cry. We are strong, indomitable women. We perservere. But this is just too much. For all of us.

Aside from the pain of losing my mother, was the shock of realizing that she was now the only one left who knew all the family lore. She never expected to have it left in her care. She had expected my mother to take on the role of historian and archivist; to pass on the stories and the scandals and the secrets, as well as all the vital statisitics. Being the eldest daughter, she had always been the keeper of those things. But she had expected to pass the torch and know that the story of our family would survive her in my mother's capable hands.

With my mother gone, she has become terribly afraid that it will all be lost when she dies. There is so much to tell, so much we girls don't know and were never told, because it just wasn't time. But suddenly it is time, and time that is running out, though we all try not to think about that.

When last we parted, she asked me when I thought I could come back. There were things she needed to tell me, places she wanted to take me, snapshots of the past that she needed to pass on. I promised her I would come back as soon as I could, knowing in my heart that it might well be too late. I hugged her extra tight that time, a beat longer than was strictly conventional for us. I fervently hoped I would see her again.

And I did.

This past week I travelled home again, to care for my sister's children while her daughter had surgery, to finish the business of dividing up my mother's life, and to be a witness to all the things Auntie had so carefully chronicled and preserved over the years. It's a responsibility she has not taken lightly. Every photo has a name and a date. Every newspaper clipping and every momento has a notation. Before my mother's death, it was a responsibility that she was proud to call hers alone. But she feels compelled to share it now.

And so, my sisters and I found ourselves in her van, travelling the snowy roads of rural Wisconsin, revisiting the past; people and places. I knew it was going to be an emotional day. Auntie wanted to show us where my Mother was born, where she lived as a child, where she went to school. She wanted to show us where our Grandparents were buried. Before that day, I couldn't have told you the name of the cemetary or even what road it was on. Our mother never took us there because... "They aren't there. That's not my Mom and Dad. I'd rather remember them alive and well than imagine them dead and decaying." Clearly, some of my issues with death are inherited.

But I was doing okay and so were my sisters. In fact, I'd say we were all enjoying the day. It seemed more like a celebration of Mom's life than anything else. We laughed at  Auntie's stories, we shared our fondest childhood memories, we learned things we had never known and remembered things long forgotten. I felt oddly happy and at peace.

Until I saw the notebook.

I guess it had been there all day, but since I was seated directly behind my Aunt, I hadn't noticed it. At the cemetary, we got out of the van to visit my Grandparents' graves. The ground was slushy and muddy and for me in my foolish urban footwear, somewhat treacherous. But we picked our way over the mess to gaze at the humble stone with their names engraved upon it. I felt both strangely detached and incredibly affected.

I never knew my grandmother. She died when I was just a few months old. How can you mourn someone you've never known? But I have, every day of my life. At that moment, however, my mourning felt strangely empty. I couldn't recall a sound or a smell or a feeling to put with the sadness. No lilting voice calling me to supper, no face powder tickling my nose, no starchy apron against my cheek. I felt the gaiety of the day leave me and I think, my sisters felt it as well. We were silent as we made our way back to the van idling at the road.

Auntie had remained in the van; it was bitterly cold and the wind was fierce. It was when we returned that I saw it, spread open on her lap, her familiar spidery handwriting covering the pages, and neat little tick marks running down the left hand margin.

She had made notes.

There was so much I suppose, so much to remember and so much already forgotten. She didn't trust herself to recall everything, and I think it was that more than anything that made it so poignant. It was an acknowledgement of her growing frailty. It was a mundane but salient reminder of fact that one day soon, she too would be gone. And it was a testament to the heart rending importance with which she viewed her task.

Underway once again, I turned my face to the window and cried silently as the snow covered evergreens whizzed by.

The rest of the day was fun filled and light hearted; lunch at a Chinese buffet and then coffee at her modest little apartment, where Uncie Norm waited to hear all about our sojourn. But I couldn't get that notebook out of my mind.

That night I dreamt of it. Three items had been added to the bottom of the list.

~Say Goodbye to Connie's Girls
~Die
~Tell Connie Girls are okay

I hate to think of her being gone. I think the finality of my Mother's death will finally sink in then, because nobody will be left to tell her stories. She'll be really and truly gone. But as much as it hurts me to think of my life without either of them in it, I'm happy they'll be together once again. Sissy and Con; the sisters, the best friends.

11 Comments:

  • At 7:00 PM, Blogger Margaret said…

    I'm glad you got to go back; it meant so much to everyone! I feel similarly about my brothers' deaths. There is no one left who remembers our childhood except for my elderly parents.

     
  • At 7:04 PM, Blogger Magi said…

    There is such poignancy in your writing. As always, your words move me.

     
  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Catch the Kids said…

    Families are so precious. A lovely story.

     
  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger SUEB0B said…

    Having lost my sister who was like my other self, my twin separated by 11 years, I can sympathize (and am crying even now). It will be 4 years in May and I still cry almost every day. It seems so cruel to have to go through life without her. Big hugs to you and your family.

     
  • At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Gurukarm said…

    Not being close to my own siblings (either in age, distance, or emotionally) I only understand this at a distance. But I did have a dear friend, a woman in our community much older than myself who lost her only sister, and last remaining 1st-degree relative, several years before her own death. I remember very clearly how difficult it was for my friend to know she was now the only one to keep the history of her family, and her childhood memories and the memory of her folks.

    Your story resonates deeply, BA, and is so well told. Thank you for sharing your dear auntie with us.

     
  • At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Gurukarm said…

    PS - it's so sweet how much you look like your mom does in that photo!

     
  • At 1:00 PM, Blogger Kate said…

    I was just thinking the same thing as Gurukarm - you look just like your mom! Hugs, girl.

     
  • At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Ellie said…

    You took my breath away - again. Just beautiful. My daddy died back in 1983. Very few of the closest people in my world today had the chance to meet him. There is only one brother left of the 7 siblings. Your post reminded me that I really, really need to spend more time with my uncle. Thank you for that.

     
  • At 10:46 PM, Blogger the only daughter said…

    Just lovely.

     
  • At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Dyann said…

    It would be great if you could land a column in some syndicated newspaper or magazine. You are so incredibly talented.

    Aside from your obvious writing talent, the content and substance of your work connects with so many on a level that most of us can't put into words. I'm usually laughing right out loud or wiping tears away at the end of your posts.

    Thanks for sharing your expeirences with us...loved it!

     
  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger heidihoeft said…

    We spent Saturday 5/28/11 with Grandpa and Grandma Hoeft. Grandma wanted to take us (Eric, my mom and me) on a car ride to show us around town.

    She was in the front seat of Eric's car with an old envelope. She also had written down places for us to visit and monuments.

    We visited Rosemore and saw the interior. Many memories came back as children playing in such a beautiful indoor garden. It's odd that we both (Eric) remembered the residents from 15-20 years ago.

    We visited their grave plots so we'd know where to visit.

    We drove by their church, the school, Benny's grocery store, Robert's Park and the path they take with their scooters.

    I look back at the fun things we did as kids how it changed as we grew older. It went from:
    *Playing dress up and that sweet marble maze (do you recall this? about 3' tall)
    *Chasing the cats, playing cards/games in the basement, listening to Grandpa play the accordion
    *Learning to drive at 15 years old in their backyard
    *Studying and working on "other" things when everyone was visiting (**other meaning things I thought were more important at the time)
    *Visiting Scott and enjoying the 21+ life that Wild Rose offered
    *Looking at old photos and hearing the stories told behind them (there is a picture viewer I vividly remember)
    and now this last visit... looking at old china and precious glass dining dishes.

    Grandma called me a day later, so happy with our visit and so excited that we were interested in the history of her precious belongings. I've never heard of a salt seller or a knife rest :)

    I find it very comforting that as we all get older, we start to appreciate moments/belongings/memories that a much older generation has always been so happy to share and indulge in.

    It makes me sad to know that we are limited in our time with these grand memories however I'm so thankful that we can appreciate them more than we did yesterday.

    If you do make it up North this summer, please let us know. I KNOW we'd have a great time becoming memory keepers!

    Heidi

     

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