Here I am, sitting at home in Virginia with my room unpacked and my new bachelor-of-arts degree folded up with Mom and Dad’s in the downstairs closet. It’s amazing how different this night is from the Tuesday night of last week—how different one week is from another…
I returned from my three-hour final in which I was to synthesize modern world history with our class texts of Amusing Ourselves to Death, I’ll Take My Stand, Eugenics and Other Evils, Communism, Witness, and Death of the West under a coherent thesis and significant conclusion, to find that Dad had called me five times. I knew what that meant.
He called to tell me Mammie died.
That evening I would circumnavigate MAP three times as Dad and then Mom explained what had happened. I remember the sobs and shuddering breaths and then the disbelief. When the furious flush of tears and questions abates, you’re left to trod out your grief to the rhythm of your own tired footsteps. Then stillness gives way—If I left right after my final tomorrow morning, can I make it in time for her funeral? “But what about graduation?” Commencement paled in comparison to her funeral. Dad checked every flight as I dumped my clothes and desk papers into any box or bag I had in preparation for my sudden exodus. But he could not find anything. I felt trapped on the campus of Grove City, needing two days to travel but only having one and a half days before the 12 o’clock Thursday service.
My great-grandmother…as time goes on, I’ll learn more of her accomplishments and beliefs—isn’t that the way, getting to know a person after she’s died better than you knew her in life? You find that she practically resurrected Pine Grove Church, she was the bulwark of her community, hers was the iron will that ran the farm (minus the pigs, mind you) after Pappy died; she tucked cash in odd places—in a popsicle box in the freezer, underneath the VCR, in prescription bottles; she had an uncanny knack for Bingo and she was crowned queen of the nursing home with Ol’ Tippy-Toes as king (a strange pair, considering she would fire a “Go on, git!” at him whenever he’d tip-toe into her room looking for candy, as if he were a cow or chicken) …you knew some of this but after her death the bits of stories and rumors codify—the nebulous stories and whispers of memories condense into a finite picture of who she was. It’s clearer, but that’s only because it is limited.
I had started a card to Mammie several weeks ago, telling her how much I’d appreciated our chats about her farming days. It sits, unfinished, on my desk now.
Those of us who couldn’t make it to Madison are going down in the fall on our own pilgrimage of sorts.