Monday, February 28, 2011

The house on the highway, Part 5

My grandmother came out to Arizona around 1967, eventually buying the house we lived in at the time. We moved to a different house in the same neighborhood, then moved again to another one, still not very far away from my grandmother.

In 1972, we took a trip back to Missouri to the town we used to live in, driving there in a new Chevrolet van, green with a white top, that replaced our 1964 Chevrolet station wagon. Unfortunately it was not as car-like as hoped, and my mother hated it. We stayed in Missouri for several days, at a motel a little ways from town. When we went and looked at the farm house, from the road, slowly driving by it, we found that the place was neglected, and the hedge had grown up into trees.

Within a few months of returning to Arizona, we got a 1973 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, light blue with a white top. It was a very large, luxurious station wagon, with a tailgate that electrically slid under the floor and a back window that electrically slid up into the roof. My mother loved that car.

On December 15, 1984, my grandmother died at the age of 90. After a funeral here, my mother took a trip back to Missouri, for a funeral for her there also. My grandmother was buried there, in Missouri, in a place that had already been prepared for her. I just attended the first funeral, in Arizona. My grandmother lay there in the casket, with too much wax and too much makeup on, looking only a little like herself. I felt she wasn't really there, though, that she had left, and this was just what was left behind, almost like a doll, something that wasn't really her anymore. I cried a lot at the funeral, though. I cried a lot.

My mother and brother, and some others too perhaps, flew back to Missouri for the second funeral. The funeral was held a little too quickly though, too soon for a lot of people to find out about it. A lot of people later said they would have gone, if they had known about it in time.

Perhaps some weeks later, I was coming into the house through the carport door, and saw my mother sitting at the kitchen table, her back to me. My grandmother was sitting in a chair beside her, sideways to her, wearing one of her purple dresses, a small peaceful smile on her face. I paused there in the doorway, stunned. I think I blinked and shook my head a bit, and suddenly my grandmother was gone, in her place a large, but much smaller, plastic doll wearing a small purple dress. I remarked on it to my mother, telling her what I had seen. Then, or a few days later, she told me that other people had seen her there too, and maybe she should move the doll. My mother later told me, decades later, though I think she might have briefly said something at the time, that she had seen her out in the backyard, looking at things.

In October of 1997, my mother took another trip back to Missouri with my brother, again by plane. He had offered to take her, and initially she had thought she wouldn't go, but then felt that this might be her last chance. She got to visit with some old friends, and my brother drove her to the area of the first farm, the one she had grown up on. The coal company had dug up the whole area long ago, long before we moved away, and had torn the houses down, leaving just a chimney standing. They never found any coal, though, and went out of business. The whole area had been restored since then, and now looked normal, and my mother could even recognize some areas.

The house on the highway, three miles from town, turned out to be a surprise, though. They found that it had been destroyed, perhaps by a tornado. One had gone through the downtown area, only a few miles away, on July 4, 1995. Perhaps it was that one, or another, or even something else. However it was done, it was completely gone, just boards laying over and in the basement. My mother and brother could see past the boards into the basement, and some of the old equipment and things were still down there. It looked too dangerous to try to get down there though, so she brought back a board wrapped in paper. It was a thin flat board, perhaps four feet or so long, with part of the edges split off. We never unwrapped it, except for perhaps a very small place, but I plan to some day.

She never made it back to Missouri again. My mother's health declined, and it became impossible for her to travel long distances. She was sometimes in the hospital every few months, and had several close calls. Nevertheless, there were times when she felt better, and we continued to hope for the future. She was usually able to get up and do things, but as time passed this became more difficult for her, though she still tried.

One time at my sister's house, probably sometime in the last two or three years, my mother saw her mother, my grandmother, again. My grandmother brought her pink roses, and told her that she couldn't visit her as often now, because she, my grandmother, was going to the next level. I arrived at the house after it happened, but everyone was talking about it. My mother was in the living room by then, but they showed me the area by the kitchen table where it happened, and where the roses were left. Looking at it, I could see an odd pinkness there, in the whole area, and something else, and my glance kept going there, to the pinkness. When I was asked if I could see them, and if they were three dimensional, I looked again and thought and concentrated and realized that I could. Initially it was vague, just a suggestion of a shape, almost like a faint three-dimensional ink drawing, with the suggestion of petals, but then suddenly, briefly, it was fully there.

My mother passed away late on November 8, 2010, at the age of 79. The funeral had an amazing amount of people, most of whom I didn't know, and I doubt she did. I guess they were friends of the other people. As it had been with my grandmother, my mother had too much wax on her. She also had the skin of her face pulled down into folds around her neck, which seemed very odd, and certainly wasn't how she looked in life. Like my grandmother at her funeral, she had lipstick on. My grandmother didn't wear any in life, not while I knew her, and although my mother had occasionally worn red lipstick when she was younger, she had not done so for a long time. The bright red color looked odd against the pale bland color they had made her face, but I think she would have wanted the lipstick on her. She looked in general very nice, and her hands looked very natural.

As I looked at her in the coffin, for a moment, for an instant, another version of her seemed to recede several feet away from me, away from the body in the coffin, through the side and the open lid of the coffin, a version of her that was alive and several years younger, partly sitting up, looking toward me with her mouth open slightly, a slight smile on her face, almost of slightly uncertain expectation. She was looking toward me, seeming very comfortable herself, but looking a little unsure of my reaction, of what my reaction to her might be. I drew back, blinking and shaking my head I think, turning away from her. I looked back a few times, but the vision was gone now. It seemed astoundingly real, though, in the brief instant of its happening.

My brother gave the eulogy. A day or two before I had been asked if I wanted to say anything, too. Some other people were also going to talk, and I could say something if I wanted to. I said no. I was really tired and feeling kind of shaky, and didn't feel like I could. And although I didn't know it at the time, I was only a few weeks away from going in the hospital myself. Over the course of the day I thought about it, though, and decided that I really had to say something. I felt it was my duty, that I was the only one who could say the things I was thinking about. I had to do it. I went ahead and wrote it down in a rough draft on the computer, then printed it out. I went over it some more on the way to the funeral and while I was there, making a few minor changes, just in my head, not writing anything down.

When it came time for the speeches, my brother went up and talked, then a few other relatives, then I volunteered to be next. I went up and got on the platform, and stood at the dais and adjusted the very ineffective microphone to point up toward me. I looked out at the crowd, scanning my eyes over them. I recognized a lot of people, but most of them were strangers. It didn't bother me that I had to speak before all of them, though there was a time when it would have. Now I just felt that I had to give the speech as best I could, and try to speak loudly enough so that everyone heard me. It was a fairly long speech, but I think I succeeded for the most part in what I was trying to do. Several more people spoke after me, not all of them relatives. I couldn't hear most of what was said, because of the poor microphone and my hearing problem. Evidently the other people were having a lot more success in hearing than I was, as evidenced by their reactions. I know I was heard, at least for the most part, because of reactions to what I was saying during the speech, and because of things that were said to me afterward, in one case about a specific thing I said, and in another case word was relayed to me that someone had said that I should be a professional writer.

Unlike my grandmother, there was no second funeral. My mother truly never made it back to Missouri again, for she was buried out here, in Arizona. It was in a very nice cemetery though, a place she had visited before her death, and really liked. After the funeral, at the cemetery, I joked that she finally got to ride in a station wagon again, referring to the white Cadillac that had been modified into a hearse. The people with me turned to look at it and laughed, remembering how much she had loved the station wagon.

It was mentioned to me that it was common for coffins to be buried on top of each other there, and that when my time came I could be buried there in the same grave with her, if I wanted. I agreed to have it done, though it wasn't anything official. I assume, though, that it will be carried out, that it will be remembered and the arrangements made, when it becomes necessary for it to be done. That time is probably quite a few years away. I have reason to believe that, but you never know for sure.

It seems like so much of my life is in the past now, though there are still things yet to be done. So much is gone now, and much exists now only in memory.

Many things from the house on the highway are still here, though many are not, lost forever along the way. We still have the swordfish sword, and the old organ, and the plate with my mother's face on it, and the shelves with the glass doors, and Uncle Doc's bookcase, and the heavy wood table, and many other things. I miss the things that are gone, though, and I miss the farm and the people and the old times there, when I was very young. I long ago knew, even when I was still a child, that the times there, at the house on the highway, and at the house on Morley in town, would be the best times of my life. I knew it then, and I know it now.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

Related posts:

What I said at my mother's funeral
Dreams and visions of my mother
The cat that came back
"Until we meet again"
The bedtime prayer
Jumbo Elephant
Finding my grandmother
Red Rover, Red Rover
The shoe salesman's cigarette
Sliding down the stairs
The Idea of a Circle
The broken baby brush
Streaks in the air
The Clarabell Clown doll
Is this really necessary?
Is someone calling my name?
Blood poisoning
My father and the Air Force
Paper airplanes
My mother tries to teach me about God

Dream - My mother and the cat that came back
Dream - Grandpa and the violins
Dream - My grandmother is voted president of a club
Dream - My grandmother's birthday party, and old cars disappearing into fog
Dream - I meet my grandmother in a hardware store
Dream - With my grandmother, on the bridge
Dream - My grandmother is younger and admires herself in the mirror
Dream - Young self one and two, dreams of different lives
Dream - Through the doorway
Dream - My dead grandfather helps me look for the dogs
Dream - The girl on the mountain

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