Goblins come pint sized.
Memories fly, black and white.
Scary? Just a bit.
It was a short trip to the country, long overdue.
I know you can’t go home again, and my final destination never actually was my residence.
But in my heart it was home, especially in summer.
My grandparents once lived in the little Minnesota town I was fast approaching. My childhood memories there are still ripe with picking rhubarb, fresh corn, Grandma’s lemon pies in the oven, and porch swings.
My final stop was to be a rural cemetery in the corn fields just about a mile beyond the town’s Main Street.
My brother, parents, and grandparents are buried there, along with a host of other relatives.
It’s my tribe.
I recall a great aunt softly grabbing my arm and walking me through the place at my brother’s burial service many years ago.
She introduced me to each and everyone of his new neighbors there. And it seemed I was related to them all.
The main purpose of my trip was to check on the state of my family’s monuments and pavers.
And also to pay my respects.
It was a lonely, cold and gray morning at the cemetery. Memorial Day had already come and gone, just like the northerly wind.
There was just me and the morning doves around.
I noticed looking across the grounds that flowers on the graves were very few.
Perhaps those who used to plant the red, white and blue petunias on the burial sites of their elders had now passed away themselves.
But as I walked around I found some unexpected gifts.
A small bunch of yellow silk forget-me-knots adorned my brother’s grave. They were faded some, but lovingly placed perhaps by a stranger who cared, or was moved by the words ‘beloved son’ engraved on the tombstone.
I also discovered sheaves of corn placed around his grave and those of many others.
There is an old custom of placing these sheaves on the burial ground of those who once farmed.
Though no one in my immediate family had worked the land, it was still in their blood.
I pulled my old down vest tighter as I battled the chill back to my car.
Driving again through my grandparents aging small town to enter the highway back towards the city, I became a little blue. I noticed the downtown looked a bit dead with many vacant storefronts.
And I realized too that this trip out in the country had lacked the charm I used to know. The once proud red barns were now decaying and swaying in the breeze. And many of the other small towns along that highway looked lost and weathered as well.
I longed for any signs of life in traditional small town America and rural America.
And maybe just to see a farmer in bib overalls, I thought.
Suddenly I pulled the car over at the sight of something familiar, yet a bit different.
To my right I saw that the old Victorian funeral parlor, sitting kitty corner from my grandparents’ old place, was filled with life again.
There were tricycles and toys in the front yard. Maybe a growing family lived here or it was a bustling day care center I hoped.
Then I looked to the left.
My grandparents’ former home was shining brighter than ever with a fresh coat of paint.
And a few minutes later as I was driving back on the highway, I finally saw my farmer in bib overalls coming out of a dollar store.
I smiled for a moment.
I was happy.
At least it wasn’t a big old Walmart.
I stand for a while analyzing my reflection in the gloom before me.
There it is, so much of life rolled out like a tired gray carpet.
A few stains are noticeable, along with a small tear here and there.
“No worse for wear,” I mumble to myself.
In the distance, six buildings proudly stand where I’ve worked at one point or another in this time line of a life.
I notice two blocks away, the old senior high rise is still around. I’d often stay there in Grandma’s tiny apartment as a child. She’d spoil me rotten with a fresh candy bowl of chocolate kisses upon each arrival.
And lots of real ones, too, as we’d play in the big park before me.
One block north on the corner, I see the brick apartment building remains where I was treated to the best shrimp omelette I’ve ever eaten on my second date with my late husband.
Thirty years later I can still taste that first warm bite. And the smell of the shrimp sautéing in sweet butter still lingers, too.
Suddenly I find myself smiling again.
I look down at the vacant cars before me.
I’ve pondered some about moving out east, or maybe west.
But perhaps I will stay parked here a little longer.
It is home after all.
Every year, this particular week is one of reflection for me.
Along with Thanksgiving, I acknowledge my birthday, and that of a brother who died too young.
And once there was a wedding anniversary.
It would have been 29 years of marriage this week if my husband Richard was still with me.
I find my memories of years gone by are as warm as they are cold.
The recollections of steamy windows and turkey bastings still fill my heart, even if the details of faces around the Thanksgiving table are fading.
And birthday party gifts of little pilgrim candles still dance happily in my head, though in one a bit fuzzier.
Yet dark November commutes on icy roads driving Richard to his adult day care center in his last years still send a chill up my spine.
My Spode Christmas mug companion, lined with mistletoe and hot coffee, would turn cold as Coke by the time I’d cross the city line to New Hope each morning.
I’d try hard to be ‘of cheer’ but would fail miserably.
Typically mumbling to myself, “New Hope? How about ‘No Hope’?” as I’d drive off from the facility downtown to work.
Dementia can do that to a caregiver.
But I’ve learned there was hope back then, and perhaps there always is.
Not of a spouse recovering from an illness where there is no cure, but of a caregiver coping with acceptance, loss and finally moving forward.
I drove to the store in sunshine today to replenish my coffee supply for my Christmas mug that now rests on the kitchen counter.
As I first walked through the door, I was greeted by the scent of buckets of yellow roses and a happy clerk restocking them.
I was definitely tempted.
The price was good, but I walked on by.
I can’t just buy them for myself, I thought.
But I stopped, shifted into reverse, then picked up a bunch along with my French Roast.
Smiling at the friendly check out clerk, I said, “These are terrific! Just like the ones I held at my wedding 29 years ago today.”
I added my husband was now gone.
His face saddened some, but then he smiled as well.
I watched him attach a sticker to the cellophane wrapping.
A “paid” sticker, I thought.
“Here,” he said, handing them back to me. “No charge. Happy Anniversary!”
I admit a tear rolled down my cheek.
Ok. Maybe two.
But my gratitude far exceeded any sadness.
And isn’t that how it should be every Thanksgiving week?
I’m voting yes.
My sister and I divided up the ‘to do’ list when we lost our Dad to Alzheimer’s.
She contacted the church and the florist.
I wrote the eulogy and called the newspaper.
After placing an order for the obituary, I made a second call to the city desk.
Dad had been heavily involved in the community over the years. My sister thought the paper might want to do a separate short write up about his passing.
I quickly received a call back from a reporter, but his initial question caught me off guard.
“So did your father serve in WWII?”
“Well, as a matter of fact he did,” I replied.
The reporter went on to explain that those soldiers who fought in WWII are dying off at a record pace. He and the rest of the staff were concerned that their great stories would be lost forever.
According to the National WWII Museum, we’re now losing veterans of the ‘big one’ at a rate of 1 every 3 minutes.
I went on to have several more conversations with the reporter about Dad’s time in the army. I provided him with several letters and cartoons that Dad sent home to Minnesota during his years in the South Pacific.
Though Dad was very proud of his community service, I know he would have been even more honored to have his stories of military service preserved for future generations.
If you happen to see any veterans today, please share your thanks for their selfless acts.
If you encounter any WWII vets, maybe give them an extra handshake.
Consider asking them to share their own stories of service with you, before they’re gone.
As what a tragic loss that would be.
So I’ve learned something else about packing for a move to a new house.
Never ever refer to your possessions as “treasures.”
Because here’s what happens.
You’ll stop ‘moving’, for one.
And two, you’ll soon be picking up every little gem, holding it up to the light just to see how it shines.
I learned that many years ago helping Grandma Esther go through her old agates and Life magazines in that musty magical storage shed.
Every last gem in there was a treasure for sure.
As for me, I don’t have a storage shed.
But I do have a basement.
And my nephew’s even deemed it magical.
If you enter my yellowing submarine, you’ll find yourself lost below ground for hours.
In fact today I snorkeled down there, finding new treasure trove which caused me to float off course.
This morning’s special diamond was an old family picture of Big Dog (a.k.a brother Scott) and Little Dog (a.k.a Buffy). They were a very bonded pair.
I’d never seen the birthday shot of the two ‘dogs’ before.
Likely it swam my direction in a box, as we did last minute clean up on Mom’s and Dad’s house before it sold.
I noticed Little Dog looks old and very gray in the picture.
The shot was likely taken shortly before she passed.
Yet Little Dog had a great and long run, far exceeding our expectations.
In contrast, Big Dog looks young and vibrant in the picture.
Though he passed shortly after the photo was taken as well.
Still Big Dog’s run was also good, even if his distance fell unexpectedly short.
I’m very happy I made my detour today, finally coming up for air up with my picture in hand.
It really is quite a treasure.
And I already have a special spot in mind in my new home, right on top of the fireplace mantle.
I know the light there will continue to shine on this bonded dog pack for many years to come.
I’m up at 4:40, dodging Bambi in the dark of early morning to get to my desk in the city by 6:45. By the time I return home, it’s dark again but for rush hour’s dingy headlights.
I rarely see December’s light of day, typically a busy time of year for me at work.
But this day a sad, empty wallet coaxes me to put on my tired boots to visit the cash machine across the street.
I soon notice a group of smiling school kids singing “Jingle Bells”. They’re jumping off the steps of a school bus to visit the one department store left in town with its annual Christmas display.
Visions of animated reindeer and Mrs. Claus suddenly dance in my head, so I decide to join in on the fun.
I move quickly in with the line, dancing figure eights around strollers and the students. I stop only long enough to see Santa’s magical elves read the children’s wish lists and watch musical, tall twinkling Christmas trees take their final bows after their performance.
I buy a freshly baked gingerbread man on the way out. I carefully munch around the edges, feet first/head last as I join shoppers back on the busy street below. I stop to look back at the majestic, ornate old building one last time.
For just a moment I am a small child again, dressed as a ‘proper young lady’, visiting the city with Grandma to visit St. Nick and the big display.
I am excited and in awe of the pretty white gloved elevator operators, decked out in blue uniforms, pushing buttons for any floor we might want to see.
I taste the warm chicken pot pie and steaming popovers from the store’s restaurant Grandma would always treat me to once every holiday season.
But my ringing phone suddenly is a wake up call that I need to get back to my desk.
I pick up my pace just as gray skies overhead gift me a spray of gentle white snowflakes.
Beautiful, intricate patterns they land on my lashes, nose, and tongue.
Just like when I was five.
Entering my office building, I hurry back up to my desk.
Stirring the now cold coffee I left 45 minutes ago, with the candy cane Santa had given me.
My coffee has never tasted so good, or as sweet.
Oh what fun……it still is.