Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Trip to See My Grandma

I recently took a trip with my parents to see my ailing grandmother. It was not a trip of pleasure, but one of necessity. And so, despite it being Easter weekend, we headed toward east Texas and the almost six-hour journey.

I read for the first part, as I always do on long car trips to help pass the time, but as we neared Palestine, I put the books away and peered out the back seat window.

One of the reasons for this is that I met a girl in college from Palestine. Life has interesting twists and turns and I believe things happen for a reason. It turned out that she had been good friends with a girl I knew as a small child in Garland. I learned from her that my childhood friend had passed away at a very young age (14) and it helped form a bond between us. We were pretty inseparable our freshman and sophomore years, but we gradually begin to grow apart as our interests went separate directions. After graduation and marriage, I lost touch with her. I have often wondered over the years what has become of her. Did she eventually graduate? (one of the reasons we grew apart - she was more into partying and I was more into studying). What did she end up becoming? Is she married? Does she have kids? I don't know. Even with the proliferation of Facebook, I haven't been able to find her. Perhaps due to a name change because of marriage. Or perhaps because she is not on Facebook. I don't know.

It may seem odd to some that people choose not to be on Facebook, but driving through the small east Texas towns, I can't help but get nostalgic for the "old" days and I can't help but wonder how people can live so differently from each other in 2014.

Living near Austin, I am use to high tech, fancy things, Starbucks on every corner (even though I personally don't drink coffee) and an abundance of shops for various purchases. I am use to seeing nice homes. Big homes. New cars. Things people would consider modern.

But not in these small towns. Many people live in trailer homes or manufactured homes. And those ARE the nice homes. People live miles away from anyone else. I wonder what these people do for a living. How far do they have to go for groceries? Where do they buy that fancy new truck sitting in the driveway? And because I'm vegetarian, can one BE vegetarian living in a place like that I suppose you can, but I guarantee it's much harder. There are no Whole Foods, Central Markets or Trader Joes at which to buy tofu and quinoa. Heck, people in these towns probably don't even know what that is. I suppose one could get by on fruits and vegetables alone, but does anyone even think about being vegetarian in a town that makes it's money by raising and slaughtering cows? I don't know. I also find it interesting that I don't see a Target in town, but I do see a store for electronic cigarettes. It's an interesting mix of old and new.

And back to the reason for the trip. To visit my grandma. My father's mom. Who lives in the same house where my dad grew up. How often does that happen anymore? We've tried through the years to get her to move closer to family, but she refused. She wanted to stay "home". Where she is comfortable and things are familiar. And so we haven't seen her as often as we would have liked over the years. Usually once a year at Christmas. But now it's time to see her again, because she may not have long to live. She is in her 90s and her health is declining. And at some point in the not too distant future, she will be gone. A piece of history and the past will be gone and I will only have my memories of her.

Memories which include the way she met my grandfather. He was a truck driver and they met while he was driving through town. They married young and my dad, the oldest of four, was born on the farm. And for a long time, he had no birth certificate. She will take with her memories of our ancestors who I would like to know more about. Her mother, I am told, was at least 50% American Indian, if not more. I am dark skinned and believe it comes from the Indian I have in me, but long to know more about that background. It's not easy since Indians had their own roll back then and were not on the census for a while. Maybe I'll try to find more time for researching that.

What she won't take is the memories that I still have. Long before seat belts were even thought about being worn on a regular basis, she and my grandfather took all six grandkids in their big Cadillac to New Mexico for vacation. Yes, 8 people in a car for a long road trip. Four or five of us squished in the back seat and one or two of us up front between my grandparents. I remember when we stopped to eat somewhere, someone paid the bill because they felt sorry for my grandparents. And I'll not forget getting a can of black olives and a $10 bill for Christmas one year. All of the grandkids love black olives and use to fight over them, so she just gave us each our own can for Christmas.

It's not a trip I want to take. I am sad that she will not be around much longer. But the trip has reminded me that sometimes simple is better. Maybe the good ole days really were the good ole days. Where would I be today if I had grown up in one of those small towns? Would I have gone to A&M? What would I be doing now? And how might my kids be different than they are today? We will never know because things happen for a reason and I'm living the life that was meant for me.

I wrote the above on the way to see her. Saying goodbye was hard, because I knew deep in my heart it was the last time I would see her alive, and it was. The following Tuesday she passed away. And so, the following weekend, I made the trip back with the rest of my family to say our final good-byes. She was a special lady and will be greatly missed.