Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Below the Soil
Being that Autumn is about to brush across the landscape with yellows, coppers, and russets, my thoughts begin to turn toward many upcoming holidays, including my birthday (September 30), our anniversary (October 22), Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Holidays always seem to be a time when memories of the past come drifting back -- memories of old family stories, places we used to live, people that we've lost. Things that we forget about in our day-to-day business . . . this is the time to feel them flood and wash over us, sometimes with the power of a tsunami, other times with the gentleness of a late summer rain.
Last Thanksgiving we were fortunate to have the company of my aunt and uncle from Ohio (my dad's sister and her husband). She is all that remains for Dad of his immediate family. There are many cousins and nieces and nephews, and such . . . but his parents and oldest sister are now gone. There is much closeness between my dad and Aunt Phyllis; and it's easy to understand why. She is warm, caring, welcoming, and kind. She is very much like her mother, my grandmother, Ruth, whom with I share a name (my middle name is Ruth). Dad was also very close with her. He is much like her as well. He gets his compassion and softness I think, from her.
Dad's oldest sister, Georgia, was the opposite of Phyllis. My memories of her are few, but I recall more of an aloofness than from other parts of the family. She and Dad didn't often get along swimmingly. Because of being twelve years older (at least I think this is correct, I may be a little off) than Dad, she often never let him grow up in her perspective and be and adult. I have heard that she is very much like her father, my grandfather, Charles Sr. My Dad is Charles Jr., something that I don't think he is still any too pleased with. :) There was much love between the two of them, but it was often more difficult to have that same closeness. Grandpa was hard on my dad. He expected much, did much, and talked little. From what I have been told, he was an extremely hard-working man, very stubborn and strong-willed, and very honest. Though he may not have shown his softer side to his own children, I have heard it said that his grandchildren received much love and tenderness.
I was not one of those grandchildren, you see . . . he died the same year in which I was born, only his death came before my birth. I never got to meet my grandpa. The only things I know of him are stories from my family and photos that have long since been captured. He is family, and yet I have no real ties of my own. He is for me, a two-dimensional tale, not a living, breathing memory. I have often wondered what he would think of me -- how he would feel about the person that I once was, the person that I am now. Would he like me? Oh sure, I know he'd love me . . . I am his granddaughter. But would he like me? Would we have been close? Am I anything like him?
It was last Thanksgiving that these questions hit me very hard. Phyllis had brought many old photos of the family, including many of Grandpa, ones that I have never seen. There were some of him in his early twenties, one in his uniform. I realized then that I'd never seen any pictures of him when he was younger. The little sketches of him that I had had in my mind seemed so narrow now. I didn't know this person. I had no reference for who this was. And I found myself feeling overwhelmed. We were all standing in the kitchen, looking at the photos, and I suddenly couldn't handle it anymore. I left the room to find a quiet place to work through my emotions. I stood alone and felt the power of the tsunami -- I cried for a few minutes, thinking of all the things I was cheated. I never got to know him, or play with him, or hug him, or talk with him. I didn't get to create memories of my own of him. This knowledge has always caused me some sadness.
And yet, amidst this sadness I somehow feel connected to him. I don't think any of my family really understands this. It's hard to explain to someone that I feel a certain closeness to him, despite our lives never intertwining. But he is my blood; that has to count for something. I don't even really know why I feel this way exactly. Why should I feel connected to someone I've never known, blood-tie or not?
Sometimes I think that maybe he would see himself in me, if we had gotten the chance to meet. I sometimes think that maybe he would find amusement in the parts of me that are spunky, feisty, and passionate, the same way in which I know my dad does. My dad is like him in many ways . . . he gets his sense of justice and fairness and his "toughness" from him, I think. And I am very much like my father. Perhaps this is why I feel connected to my grandfather . . . a certain sharing of traits, like the interweaving of roots below the surface of soil, from plants maybe scattered and far away. There is a tie there. It may be deep and hidden, but it is there. He is a part of me, whether or not we saw each other face to face. I am a remnant of the ways in which his roots massaged the soil and his branches spread to the sky. In this way we are all connected.
I know that I can't possibly feel the same way toward him as if I had known him, spent time with him, and then lost him. But I can love him in my own way. I may only be able to know him through other people for now, but perhaps someday I will be able to know him in my own way as well.