This past weekend I drove, too fast, to eastern Oregon to talk to my grandpa about gold mining. I'm working on a project for a class that asks us to create an oral history, and so I'm working on this project that is sort of a memoir of place. Because I can't talk about mining with talking about my family, and I can't talk about my family without talking about where we came from. And that's Baker City, a little town in a big valley ringed by mountains. I like driving into the valley best, when the Wallowas are sitting to your left and the Elkhorns appear blue to the right, and you know you've gotten somewhere then.
I was there to talk to my Pepere, and I enjoyed it--it was interesting, of course, to learn his stories, and my own history. I think there's something eternal about talking to the people you've come from, to find out what made them who they are. And what you share--at one point, when Pepere was concerned about me driving alone, I told him I actually really enjoyed it. He nodded and laughed, and said, "Yeah, well, the road calls to all of us." And I think he's probably right. We both agreed we'd die if we couldn't read anymore. Small points of connection that bridge the time and space between our lives.
But for all that, it was my grandma that lingered with me that afternoon and after I'd left. In August she will have been gone for five years. Doesn't that seem like too long to be gone? They say you die two deaths: one when you leave this world, and one when the last person speaks your name. I don't think this counts as speaking, but I do want to tell you how present she is for us.
Lilacs were blooming in my cousin's backyard when I got to his house, and I told him they always reminded me of her and he said it was part of why they were there. My Pepere recalled how beautifully she played the piano, how she loved a party--he knew it was close to the end when she left a party early--and how she couldn't find her way out of a closet. (This, I think, is a trait passed on to me from G. Claire. I often think, as she did, that whatever way I'm facing is North. Intellectually I know this isn't true, but I'll be damned if my inner compass doesn't tug North no matter where I'm standing if it's the direction I'm facing). When I went to the cemetery to visit her grave, I wasn't exactly sure where it was (see again: my sense of direction) even though I'd been before. But I was terrified of leaving without setting flowers on her gravestone because I knew, somehow, that wherever she was she's keeping track. I can still hear her voice saying, "Hi, honey," over the slam of the screen door going into her house in Baker, and how she used to sit with her legs crossed at the knee. My older sister went to the beach the same weekend I headed east, and she came home talking about Sea Granny, because my grandma loved the ocean.
Anyway, I miss her. She was a great lady. But I think she's always still just around, if we look.