A drive like any other...the black tunnel enveloped our car as we sped out of suburbia and toward the country. The crisp air, the snow-covered fields both quiet, as were the twinkling stars. We were too...in the back seat and the front seat. So much so, sleep tugged at my eyelids and blanketed my thoughts. I almost gave in.
My four-year-old broke the silence with a request: "Tell me about Great-grandma McKean." His little voice warmed my heart and brought to life a treasure trove of memories -- of giggles, treats, hugs, and songs. The contrasting reality, however, seemed much quieter. Like farmers' hibernating fields outside my window. My heart took on weight.
He would never know the same woman I did.
"She's spirited," I started, pushing back an eager tear.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, she's spunky. She likes to giggle. And, her giggle is unique -- it's unlike any other and when I hear it, my heart grows two sizes. You know how it is when it just makes you happy to hear the voice of someone special."
"And, she loves to take care of others. She used to make really delicious meals, like southern baked ham with mashed potato casserole and a side of sweet corn she'd put up the summer before. She always had special snacks for us when we visited, like popcorn she made on top of the stove and then drenched in melted butter. Or the homemade cinnamon rolls, oozing with vanilla icing, she'd serve when we spent the night with her and Grandpa. Did you know she once fed Uncle Brad a dozen Smok-Y-links...just because he liked them? And, you know her white hobnail candy dish that's full of M&Ms...she's always had that sitting on the same coffee table, even though the coffee table moved from her house and then to two apartments."
But it is gone now. Nursing care couldn't accommodate the remainded furniture that 'made the cut' with each successive move. The hobnail candy dish did; it's just tucked between pictures of Grandpa, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in the small wall unit next to her bed.
"And, she used to make up the silliest little songs...she'd sing them as she held me near or bounced me on her knee. One was in Swiss, a language Grandma's parents spoke when she was a little girl. It was something about a red cow. And, then there was the 'good morning to you' ditty she'd sing to wake us up -- it's the same one I sing to you every day. Did you know that?"
And, now she doesn't know me. Either.
Sure, she knows where I belong. I'm Carol's. Her "Hello" is as warm as I ever remember it being; it's the follow-up questions that hurt worse than an eight-car pile up. Do I have boys or girls? Do I teach or stay home? She isn't confident in her memory from one minute to the next. And she knows it. So, she'll ask me the same questions...again. We play along.
It's the quiet audience she's become, when I remember how much she'd add to any conversation. It's the little routine her visitors do to keep her engaged, when I remember how much sparkle she'd add to any space.
It is what isn't.
And never will be again.
"Grandma is a special lady and that you can always remember. She loves you. So much."
The car slid out of the darkness and into our neighborhood speckled by street lights. I'm not sure which was brighter: the tears glistening on my cheeks' slippery superhighway, or the full feature memories playing in the recesses of my mind.