Funny thing as I get old… I miss things I took for granted when I was younger and that are gone now.
This time every year the sandy jungle we call a yard erupts in berries of all sorts – raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. I bemoan the lack of a yard most of the year, but this time of year finds me out with a bucket picking berries in the hot sun, enjoying the peacefulness of the process, and breathing deep the smell of the berries, the sweet fern that grows everywhere, listening to the hum of the bees and cicadas. And thinking about being a kid on Block Island with Ma, picking blackberries in hotter sun, when all I wanted to do was go to the beach. But first we had to go berrying with a bunch of “old” ladies who didn’t really appreciate other people’s grandchildren. I did not enjoy it. It was the price I had to pay to be on the island and to go to the beach after lunch. But now I find I miss it. I miss the days when all I had to worry about was someone saying I had certainly grown since last summer, or how soon we would fill the baskets and head home. I miss having my grandmother sharp and lively and able to hold a good conversation, and to take enjoyment out of life. While I still have her, I sort of don’t, and I miss her.
And all week, my other grandmother, Gram, has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure why, but I would think of her sort of randomly as I worked on an art project or put things away in the craft room. Finally, I realized why she was coming to mind more and more. Her 101st birthday was Thursday. She isn’t here to celebrate it, but she was certainly on my mind all day. She was not lively or fun when I knew her. She was steadfast and calm, with a sharp wit, very observant. She was a skilled craftsperson, a wonderful seamstress, but not a teacher. So my Ma taught me how to do the basics of things like sewing, and then Gram would demonstrate how to do things better, or give me a book that told me how. It is an interesting combination of skills these two ladies had. One could knit and cook to beat the band. The other could do any kind of handwork (except knitting!) and thought a day that didn’t involve meal prep was a gift of the gods.
Then there is my friend Kate. She has been gone nearly three years now, she died on Ma’s 100th birthday. When I called Ma to let her know Kate was gone, she cried. She wondered why she should live to be so old and someone like Kate should die so young. Good question that of course there are no answers to. Kate was a friend who did all the heavy lifting in the relationship. We met, we think, in kindergarten or first grade. But we became friends in 6th grade. When we went our separate ways, it was always Kate who would call on my birthday, or when she came back home. We would chat like we saw each other yesterday, and it was like that for the rest of her life. We would see each other maybe once a year, for short visits, where we talked nonstop for however long we had. We rarely talked about troubles or troubled times, but about fun and life and the universe and friends and people we loved. She made me think about things differently, in a more positive way. Yet I knew that for Kate there were many troubles. I would get worried when I didn’t hear from her for a long time, but I learned not to call her then, that if she was in a bad place, she could not be upbeat and she didn’t want to talk about the bad things. She would call me when she could handle it. A funny sort of friendship that way.
Now Kate is gone, and even though I didn’t talk to her often, I realize that I always knew she was there, and that a bubbly fun conversation could come at any time. But now it can’t, and the world feels very much emptier. I have been thinking about Kate a lot this week, because her sister called the other day – she is in town and wanted to say hi. I thought what a powerful person for relationships Kate was, if her sister, who was grown and gone by the time Kate and I became friends, thinks to call me when she is in Maine.. Kate must have loved me very much.
I miss Kate, and both my grandmothers… but I need to learn from this missing. Learn to appreciate what I have and who is here now, because there is no telling when they will go and I will only have memories.