Today is a sad day, a day to stop and reflect, ruminate and remember.
My Grandmother Merle McCracken Ellis passed away today, this morning, her grown children nearby there in Tennessee, so far away from us, from having the chance to introduce Otis to her. Someday I’ll introduce him to her stories, as we will for all our elders that can’t be around to meet him in person.
When we met Grandmother not too long after my Mom and Dad began dating; I took to calling her "Mike's Mom", slurring it all together into one word, which my brother took to actually be one word, as natural as Ravioli or Snoopy birthday cake. She smiled and indulged us for a couple weeks before introducing herself as Grandmother. And though with no small effort my brother and I were able to adjust to a more suitable title, today of all days I'm a kid again meeting her afresh and thinking how lucky we must be to have Mike's Mom in our lives, because she made us feel welcome, appreciated, and at home.
This is additionally poignant as Grandmother Ellis is the last of my grandparents to pass away. Grandma Christy passed last year, last of all her sisters that I miss as well. Over the years my Grandma & Grandpa Van Dussen, my God Grandparents Arlene and Vernon Howe, Granny McCracken and Granny Lou, and adopted elders Grandma Dawsey and Mr. Richard C. Shacklett have all transcended, have shuffled of this mortal coil.
Not a single passing has made adapting easier, or diminished the nagging ache, that feeling of a thousand things still left unsaid. I watched as my sisters dug up and posted old family pictures to Facebook and feel their loss, a sense of it, though they were always understandably closer to her, and their grief all the more gripping. I wish I could reach through the distance and hug all of my family, or be hugged by them, all of the above. We all have pursued our various grand adventures, and the sad byproduct is distance, physical and emotional, a disconnection of the day to day, lost track of one another’s minutia.
Upon a time I couldn’t wait to have more room, not be cramped up in the back seat with my siblings for epic road trips to Grandmother’s house, or Pete & Elaine’s, to Greg & Jackie’s, or on up to Grandma & Grandpa’s place in Canada. Right about now I’d trade all my Legos for a couple weeks to revisit all those places, in particular the people that have since moved on to greener pastures no frequent flyer miles can ever connect you too for a stopover visit.
To ride bouncily along with my Grandpa in his yearly painted red hardtop jeep down the pioneer trail he’d kept cleared, giant mosquitoes dancing against the windshield.
To have a heaping bowl of Apple Jacks and talk about baseball while my Granda Christy washes dishes wearing only a bra, or go with Helen and May and Kate to get burgers with coleslaw and chopped up boiled peanuts on them from the drive in place where wheeled warrior waitresses deliver to your car directly. And an ice cream cake that one fine birthday, first and finest I’ve ever tasted. And the softball mitt I still have safely stored to someday pass on to Otis.
To beg Grandmother Ellis for more left over Bisquick sausage balls or rice and hamburger cabbage rolls before running outside to play with my Dad’s Marx Civil War figures from his childhood in the flowerbed, stealing the occasionally sour purple grape from the grape vine overgrowing one side of the screened in back porch with the trunk thick as a man’s leg.
To walk the white fluffy dog around the neighborhood with Vernon Howe after a day of watching him water ski from the back of the boat his wife Arlene expertly drove. To go with Arlene to see live performances of Godspell and see Clint Eastwood in a crime thriller projected on a small screen in a church basement.
To listen to stories about snapping the fishery photo that got Dick Shacklett into Life magazine as he tunes up with his band of buddies for a living room jam session of old time classics.
To sit in Granny Lou’s rail tie log cabin eating blackberry cobbler and warming my feet by the wood burning stove in compact the kitchen.
To roam around Granny McCracken’s rooms and yard meeting step-cousins and wondering how much that pointy metal clock in the green hued living room must weight.
To see another movie or enjoy a dinner out with Grandma Dawsey, or just sit with her and her children and their children and enjoy some BBQ and the sound of the breeze in the trees.
A toast to the elders I miss, the patron saints of my family unit. You have my respect, love, and admiration. You’ve given me stories to tell and helped to shape what is good about the person I am, or when at my best can strive to be. I wish I had known all of you better, had been more able to pause from the distractions of youth to absorb more, ask more, listen more. At least some of who you were managed to get through to me via osmosis, make lasting impressions that will help guild my patience as a new parent, and give legends to paint across the sky for Otis some fine afternoon as we dally on the gentle slope of a riverbank as the clouds pass by and the breeze gossips amongst the willows.
Grandma McCracken Ellis in 1949 in Japan w. my Dad