my memories seem to be stored in a vault. not lost, but definitely protected by a very convoluted set of passwords. maybe it’s because my life has not been linear, but rather filled with a few sharp turns and somewhat dramatic twists. having moved many times, i’ve had many people come and go. and sadly, i haven’t always done a great job of keeping in touch, once I’ve moved on to the next location.
it’s been similar in regards to my extended family, for reasons far too complex to detail here. perhaps someday i’ll write my story and sort through those complexities, but suffice it to say sometimes i feel a bit like a prodigal child, off in a faraway land, living my life. never more have i felt this way than at the recent funeral of my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Anderson, affectionately known as “Granny,” by all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. at one point during the visitation hour I found myself alone on the chapel pew. as i scanned the crowd, i realized there were many unfamiliar faces. not just the usual fare of distant relatives and family friends, but also the faces of teenagers and young adults who were babies when i left and the faces of babies and children i’d never met. frankly i was grateful for facebook, as that did help some.
besides the new faces, there were the familiar faces, aged by 13 years of life and struggle. in this moment i felt an overwhelming sadness. these cousins, these aunties, these uncles…these are the folks with whom i spent a great deal of my youth, and yet now i don’t really know them. not REALLY. as in, not their stories. as in, not what’s been really going on with them for the past 13 years. oh sure, my dad has kept me abreast of this one and that one, but i’ve experienced these tales as passive observer, not as active participant. and now, the result, this awkward moment: a hug, a polite exchange and a moving on. and as i did move on, i wondered: what DO they think of me? what do they think of my absence? who do they think i am? thanks to the media, some of them may think they know. one aunt tells me: “i keep waiting too see you pop up on “the basketball wives” show.” i giggle politely, hoping she doesn’t really know that little of me. doesn’t she remember i was the shy one?
the next day, in an effort to unlock my vault, i drove past Granny’s old house, before heading to the airport. not the apartment where she lived in her later years, but the house on kirkup street, where all us cousins used to gather every weekend. as i made my way, there was tremendous familiarity in every way, but one: the house didn’t look like i pictured it. my dad had already told me that it looked the same, yet somehow i had created a totally different vision of the house. as i slowly drove past, i noticed 3 girls playing double dutch in the driveway, and it warmed my heart to see that house alive and well with laughter. if i WERE on a reality show, we may have approached these girls and told them i used to play here as a girl and perhaps their mother or grandmother might have suggested that i come in for coffee and take a look around. but alas, this wasn’t a made-for-tv-moment, and i kept driving to keep from scaring those poor girls to bits. but as i drove out of the neighborhood, i remembered the corner store we used to walk to for “now & laters” and the park where we played for hours and the moments we used to share at Granny’s house.
even though i didn’t call her as much as i should, or come visit often enough and even though we didn’t talk about it, i know Granny loved me and was proud of me. (i received my affirmation when i entered her apartment and saw every Christmas card and birth announcement i’d ever sent her, hanging in her hallway.) i also believe that she knew i loved her. (the best idea i’ve ever had was throwing her an appreciation party a few years ago.) but with her passing, i’ve come to believe that i’ve got to do better. i want my own children to feel a connection to this part of me. but more importantly, there is a hole in my heart that can only be filled by this particular set of people: these aunties, these uncles, these cousins and their stories. i also think that she would want me to make this homecoming. for she never turned her back on anyone and i know she would’ve welcomed me…without hesitation, just as the father did in the prodigal son parable. i’m just sorry that i didn’t realize the importance of taking this step sooner…
i love a song by new edition called “home again.” the lyrics tug right on my heartstrings and speak to just what i’m talking about. click here to check them out and then go hug your grandma, if she’s still with you (even if it means getting on a plane to do so). while you’re at it, sit with her and absorb her pearls of wisdom and her great stories, because life is short and tomorrow isn’t promised. rest in peace, Granny. i love you.