Shortly after I heard the screen door slam and my mother crank up the station wagon, I went back to exploring the house. I walked the halls, my mind in tune with each creaky step of the wooden floorboards. Running my hands gently over the walls, the banister, I let my thoughts wander to my grandmother. She had been a stranger to me, and yet in this house I felt closer to knowing her than I did my own mother.
It was an old home, but one that had been well cared for by someone who took pride in appearances. Looking beyond my first impression, I could interpret so much more. I took in the throw blanket bunched up on the armchair with a stack of books on the floor beside it. My eyes rested on a plate peeking behind the wooden leg, and I imagined she had gotten so caught up in a book she had forgotten the snack she had prepared. I had seen the overflowing bookshelves throughout the house. The realization she loved to read as much as I did felt special in a way I couldn’t quite describe.
I walked down the hall to my grandmother’s bedroom. In all the apartments, houses, and trailer parks we had lived it never felt permanent, mine. Something about this place felt like home to me. I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that the only family member I had ever heard of had once lived here or if it was the promise of learning more regarding the mystery that was my life. I entered the room, and approached the queen size bed with the floral blanket and numerous pillows propped against the ornate wooden headboard. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the open book on her nightstand. It was positioned off center, part of it hanging off the edge of the nightstand. A pair of reading glasses attached to a colorful beaded chain rested on the pages as though just before drifting off to sleep, giving in to her weary eyes, she had reached over and set them down. I was all too familiar with that feeling of losing myself in a book, wanting to remain in the story even as I fought off sleep and my lids threatened to shut me out from the next chapter and the characters who had become my constant companions.
I started to reach for it and suddenly wondered what it must feel like to begin a story and die before learning the whole story, before getting to know the characters, their biggest fears, their hopes and dreams, their purpose in the big picture, their role in the final chapter.
I quickly pulled my hand back and thought, “What if that is exactly what happens to me? What if I never find the answers I seek?”
Normally, these questions would bring on a panic attack, leaving me trying to catch my breath and attempting to slow down the pounding of my heart. With my feet firmly rooted to the ground next to my grandmother’s bed, I stared at the book and felt a sense of calm instead. I looked around her room and could almost see her life, her movements ingrained in each item.
Is it possible to miss someone you never really knew?
This house held answers and I felt closer to the truth than ever before. I just hoped I would have enough time to find it before my mother decided it was time to hit the road again.
“Yoohoo! Eden, are you here? I brought some cookies!”
As Mrs. Carmichael arrived with homemade butter pecan cookies, my mind was racing with unanswered questions. Mrs. Carmichael’s raced with sympathies and apologies on the loss of my grandmother.
“I miss her so much already. We used to sit together every morning and enjoy a cup of coffee before going our separate ways. Sometimes in the afternoon, we would find ourselves in the same spot again, coffee cup in hand, sharing my apple crumble coffee cake or a slice of my pecan pie. She was an amazing lady. We would sit and talk for hours, although she always said, much like her favorite authors, she expressed herself better in writing. She was always reading. And, when she didn’t have her nose in a book, she was sitting out on the back porch writing in one of her journals. I could see her from my kitchen window, and was always in awe of how she could lose herself in her own words as she scribbled frantically on the pages – How a green leather journal in her lap and a pencil in her hand could transport her to another place, another time.”
“She wrote in pencil?”
“Yes, when I asked her about that she said something that stayed with me.”
We go through life thinking we have the answers. We don’t. We end up making mistakes we wish we could erase. We long to give ourselves a clean slate, and the opportunity to try again. When I write, my words come to life, and in life much as in writing, mistakes are just around the bend.
“She loved you and your mother so much! She always talked about how proud she was of you. I wish you would have gotten to know her the way I did.”
Those words prompted me to need a breath of fresh air. I thanked Mrs. Carmichael and told her I was going for a walk to explore the outdoors a bit. I promised to stop by on my way back to try her pecan pie which she assured me just needed a little longer to cool off before she could serve it with a heaping scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
I headed out the back door and stood on the porch for a moment. In the corner was an old wooden rocking chair with a small table by its side. I wondered if that’s where my grandmother filled the pages of her journal. My feet crossed the distance to the chair before my mind could object, and I found myself sitting in it a bit stiffly even as I gently began to rock. I closed my eyes, imagining my grandmother sitting here, alone with only her thoughts for company. I imagined her holding her journal close, pencil in hand, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. I slowly opened my eyes and was taken aback by the realization that I was looking at the same landscape she often saw, and suddenly the idea of seeing the world through her eyes made me relax. I stood and stepped off the porch with no clear idea of where I was going. I could almost hear the message I so often read in the birthday cards she sent me.
“No matter what direction you choose in life, the truth will always present itself. Know that I am proud of you.”