As I pray through family members this morning, I realize how the normal pulling away of children from parents is happening. It’s not a bad thing, it’s the way it works. Children grow with families of their own. Their families grow and grandparents become part of their legacy, their history, and their memory, even while they live.
I paused for a moment and considered my father dying alone at Woodland Park Hospital. How much did he know while he was so debilitated by his disease? I wonder if he was aware of how important he was to his children? He could not know how much of him would remain, mementos of his contribution to our lives.
I look around my office. Above the door is his name carved in wood that used to be above his office door. On the shelf a toy truck my sister picked up and left for me — Allied Van lines. She bought decals and affixed his name on the trailer: Mayhew Transfer and Storage. There is a fedora on my shelf that she picked up while on a trip to the Oregon coast. My dad used to wear a hat just like it. There is a bottle of Old spice on the shelf. A bolo with the initial ‘M’ on it that he used to wear. His name on an aluminum top-piece that used to sit on our mailbox. Elsewhere, there are old pairs of his glasses, cancelled checks that he made out with his signature on them, a high school yearbook, a ledger … The accumulation of these items was not intentional. They are just here. They are reminders of what I hope he knew, that he was loved, appreciated, and important.
Remembering is when thoughts drift together into,
And most important of all…How?
How did it happen?
I’ve searched the net to find out where this little poem came from. I know it’s not original with me. It came, if I recall, from a long-play recording of poetry by Carl Sandburg, although I don’t believe it is his. I think, rather, it was attributed to his mother — still, I wouldn’t bet on it. I wouldn’t bet on the accuracy of my recollection of it, either. So, call it a paraphrase of a poem that I once heard and committed to imperfect memory.
I think of it now because my sister’s life is evaporating before our eyes like a puddle in the sun.
We keep a sober vigil, waiting for Maxeen’s inevitable transport from this world to the next. And in the waiting, I sit with my sister and remember the ‘who,’ the ‘what,’ the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of her life and mine. We remember the all important ‘how’ it happened.
Passing the time with photographs of people and places that we both remember, I realize that it is not just one person that is dying, it is a community. Those people and places known to no one but she and I will soon be known only by me. They will be treasured in only one heart, and eventually, the remembering will cease. Who? What? When? Where? How? Will swirl away like fallen leaves.
In Kewanee, our home town, on the street where I spent my first seven years and Maxeen her first 17, autumn was a mystical time. I remember it as a kind of festival. The men would rake leaves that drifted from the brooding maples that lined McKinley Avenue. The children would push them into long ridges — imaginary walls of make-believe houses in which unfolded pretend lives — until a grown-up, with his rake, would pull the leaves over the curb into the street and set them afire. The smoke would rise silently and touch the branches where the leaves had grown and lived, and then, like a fragrant memory, drift skyward and be gone.