What are memories made of? The sun glints on the snow and from my school desk I can see the ice is building up on the lake. The polar vortex has brought ice early this year, wreaking havoc with the water supply and our school days and my memories. The present is entangled in the past for me on this January day. Sitting in my eighth grade classroom at the biggest desk with rolling chair, the view from my window brings me back to the eighth grader I was when my world was turned upside down. Twenty-nine years is a long time to miss her, and I am literally back where I started, remembering the day my sweet grandmother died.
How is she still so powerfully with me, this woman with the map of Ireland on her face? Maybe it is because I was just talking with a friend about her. How she taught me how to do the work first: woke me up at six in the morning, fed me coffee laden with milk, and set me on my tasks for the day. We rode the tractor, weeded the garden, made the beds, cooked the lunch and put dinner on the stove. Worked hard first so that by 3:00 we were already settled in to read our mystery books on the porch, or fish off the dock with a bamboo pole.
But maybe it is something more. Her spirit is here, the way she twinkled when she spoke, the way she stood up for her beliefs, the way she made a little mischief along the path she chose. She dabbled in writing, and power tools, and making friends, and breathing in nature. She drove her husband crazy, and never could understand all of his political and upper class dealings. She was a simple woman with a simple faith and a very large sense of who she was. Maybe she is not so far away after all. I recognize her in my grown up self, and the miracle is that the passage of time could make this so.
As my dad always said, “It’s all part of nature, you see.” But it still makes me marvel. How could a woman who spent so little time with me on this planet have had such a powerful impact? She planted the seeds: read me books, fed me pudding and beef soup, showed me how to wear a hard hat under the pear tree at the end of the lane so we wouldn’t get hit by the falling fruit. She helped the hopeless and spoke her mind and never stopped appreciating the apple trees and the starry nights and the hardening ice upon the bay where she lived. She made her corner of the world shine.
And she nurtured a granddaughter that would stand the test of time. Somehow, I think, a garden left untended for nearly thirty years would be infested and overgrown and unkempt. But these deep roots she gave me have kept her alive, and molded the woman I have become: through my writing, my ornery side, my love of the outdoors, and in my own children who join me amid the tomato plants and sand castles and snow balls.
The ice outside my window today reminds me of the circle of nature. And I can attest that in some ways I am back where I began when she left too soon. But I am much closer to this woman in my heart, the one who taught me to work and play and laugh and believe. And I think she might be proud of the way her garden is shaping up.