Sad Day

So, it’s today.

It feels slightly unreal to be writing this from a lower end chain motel in a very small town in northwest/central Alabama, something I would have said a month ago would probably never happen. And yet here I am, in the lower reaches of the Appalachian Mountains to say my final goodbye to my mother. I make no promises or guarantees that I won’t cry, or break down, or anything like that. It was hard driving up here yesterday emotionally; I kept hoping that the drive would never end because I don’t want to accept that she’s gone, and I don’t want to cry in front of my father. I think that would be too hard on him.

The actual drive itself was easy and I was listening to Carol Goodman’s marvelous The Other Mother and literally had just gotten to the big twist when I pulled into the motel parking lot. I’m looking forward to finishing it on the way home tomorrow morning.

Once I was here, Dad and I went for a drive through the county and it was surreal. Things of course I remember from my childhood are long gone–with a few exceptions–and there were several times I’d remember something and Dad would confirm it, surprised at the little detail I was remembering–and there were big details I was completely wrong about; like where my uncle was killed in a car accident, for one. But some of the things I remembered and put into Bury Me in Shadows were still as I remembered them from my childhood, but really? For the most part it was like I’d never been here before; my memories had reordered the geography and so forth for ease of memory–or perhaps it happened when I was fictionalizing the place and thus put things where I needed them to be, and my brain turned my fictionalization into the memory. But we did eventually end up at the cemetery where Mom will be laid to rest today, and walked through the small graveyard visiting relatives and friends of my parents, some of whom I remembered and some I did not.

It’s very weird seeing your parents’ headstone for the first time. The headstone made it all real.

I also remembered something a little sweet and a little sad at the same time; I guess I should have said poignant and left it at that. It was triggered by something my father was saying about my mother as we rode along the backroads of a back county: I always thought of wherever my mother lived as “home.” I wouldn’t say I was visiting my parents, I always said I was going home. “Oh, I’m going home for Thanksgiving.” “Oh, I’m going home this weekend.” In my fifties I began consciously making the effort to not say that, because it inevitably confused people or led to a longer explanation…I’d say visiting my parents or going to Kentucky but for me, to me, internally and in my head and heart and soul, I meant I’m going home because home is where my mom is. It’s true; everywhere my mother lived, somehow she managed to turn that house into a place that felt like home to me, even if I had never lived there. It was dumplings waiting for me warming on the stove when I pulled into the driveway in the dark after driving for twelve hours, exhausted and tired and wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed but instead staying up for another hour, eating two bowls of the most amazing dumplings ever cooked (oh how I wish I knew how to make them the way she could), and then a piece of the homemade blueberry cheesecake she’d made for me because they were both my favorites. She always made my favorites while I was there, and always looked so sad when I hugged her goodbye when it was time for me to make the long drive home. She’d always wash and fold the clothes I took with me and wore, so they’d be clean and I could just put them away when I got home.

Yes, I was spoiled. I always was, really. I was the baby, of course, and also a boy. I was a very strange child, and certainly nothing either of my parents could have possibly dreamed of/feared when I was born (we drove past the hospital where both my sister and I were born; my sister took nine hours, I took less than three, if that long) on the day of that family reunion back in 1961. That family reunion was just up the county road from where my mom will be buried tomorrow. I never really got the point of cemeteries until today, either. I always thought they were kind of morbid and creepy, and I never understood the need to go visit graves and tend them and bring flowers and all of that. Yesterday walking around the cemetery and seeing the graves of people I remember from my childhood also brought back memories of the person–which was kind of sweet and lovely and poignant all at the same time, and I thought Dad knows almost everyone here which made me think about all the losses he’s suffered through in his life. I didn’t grow up down there in the midst of the entire family on both sides the way my dad did, so these were his aunts and uncles and the cousins and friends he grew up with–and he also remembered some choice gossip about some of those people resting there, which just made me smile a little bit inside, too–ah yes, I always forget my parents basically grew up in Peyton Place.

And it was nice hearing the stories, too; double dates with friends, or the time my uncle was late picking them up and my dad was furious and yelled at him all the way to my mother’s because she was waiting for him and he was late and he worried she’d think he stood her up, then laughing as he remembered how his older brother didn’t say anything but basically was driving 100 miles per hour on those then-unpaved back roads to shut him up. (My uncle died in October.) “Did it work?” I asked, and Dad grinned and said “no, I yelled at him until we pulled up at her house.” They were going to a football game in Tuscaloosa, somehow having gotten their hands on Alabama football tickets (I chose not to bring up the fact that Dad’s side of the family were all Auburn fans) and my mother was excited because she’d never been to a game.

Okay, time to put on my game face and get ready to face this. Thank you all for your kindness, by the way, if I haven’t thanked you all before.

6 thoughts on “Sad Day

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