Thursday, June 5, 2008

Passing through

Some of my earliest memories are of funerals. Both of my great grandmothers were still living when I was born. I remember ‘helping’ my father’s mother give Granny her pills. I also remember my maternal great grandmother residing in a hospital bed in my great aunt’s house. I have a stool on which we kids used to stand so that we could talk with her and give her kisses. I am sure that I could not have been more than four years old when both of them passed on. I remember all the family gathering at my grandparent’s house when Granny left us but I don’t have clear images of the funeral itself.

My father’s parents lived on a two lane paved road in Delta County, Texas. There were about three or four other houses close enough to theirs that the place had a name. Lone Star it was called, although you would never have seen that name on a map. It had no stores or even a post office. A couple of the houses were off the paved road. The soil there is black gumbo. You don’t want to be off the pavement when it rains. The land turns to black goo and will ball up and stick to anything and everything. Any moving object will just sink into it, not to move until it dries at which time it cam be chiseled off the wheels or the boots or the hooves.

As far as I know, none of these houses had running water except at the kitchen sink. This was accomplished by placing a water tank so that it caught the runoff from the roof and positioning the spigot so that it came through the wall above the sink. My grandparents hauled water from a well for everything else. They had a galvanized tub that they placed on the floor of the main room and filled with water from the well for bathing. There was an outdoor toilet situated a reasonable distance from the back door. A two holer as I recall.

Most of the day-to-day living took place in the kitchen and the main room which held their bed and a seating area. In the front of the house was the living room which was only used for company. There was also a smoke house and a pen for my Papaw’s greyhounds. Then there was the barn and barnyard with the milk cow, pigs and chickens. One time we drove up and I saw Papaw out by the barn. I went running toward him and was attacked from behind by a bantam rooster. I am pretty sure we had chicken for Sunday dinner that week.

Granny, my grandmother’s mother, lived with them until she died. I suppose that is why the funeral gathering was at their house, even though they had no indoor plumbing.

My maternal great grandmother, Mammy, lived with her oldest daughter in Dallas. They lived next door to my grandfather who was the youngest of 13 children. When she died, her body was brought back to Delta County for the funeral and burial. I remember her being in her casket at my other great aunt’s house….in the front living room that was only used for company. At least that house had working plulmbing even if the water was pumped from a pool that was too close to the barn yard for the water to be potable and there was an over head that caught rainwater for drinking. It was the runoff from a shed with a tin roof and had to be brought into the house in a bucket.

I was reminded of the passings of my great grandmothers yesterday as I spent most of the day in a nursing home with one of my best friends whose mother was taking her leave of this time space reality. My friend’s son was there part of the day and he had his six year old daughter with him. I knew that he wanted to be there but I was a little concerned about the child and what she would remember of her great grandmother. Will her most vivid memory be of the day she died? I tried to distract her when I could but I was busy answering the phone and doing my best to hold a peaceful space in which everyone could take leave of each other in the most relaxed way possible.

In the end, my friend’s mother waited until we had all left so that she could leave on her own terms. Early this morning, I felt a whisper of air brush across my face. I turned onto my back and saw a golden glow of light and a smile. I thought I was dreaming until I realized that I could see daylight around the curtains and that I was awake. Later I learned that she had crossed over around 6:00am.

Soundtrack for this post: Mary Melena's Sounds Like Rain


hele said...

How fortunate you are to have seen her smile.

A lovely story and post. Thank you.

konagod said...

Your grandparents were slightly better off that mine. They had just a one-holer. :lol: By the time I was born they had moved on to indoor plumbing but I remember in the 60s they hadn't torn down the outhouse and I took a peek in there once.

Also the pump for water was no longer necessary but they incorporated it into the fencing for the chicken yard -- the pump might have been used to anchor the gate as I recall. It still worked too.

My grandfather used to drink water from a big silver ladle (it was probably stainless steel) and even after they got running water in the kitchen he still drank from that ladle which he kept hanging on the wall in the kitchen next to the sink.

seventh sister said...

Yes, I was fortunate. She really fought to stay here and I thought she might scowl at me instead.

Kona, I'll bet that 'ladle' was an aluminum dipper. My grandparents had one as well as my great aunt and uncle. Rainwater drunk from a dipper like that tasted so sweet.

MsLittlePea said...

Wow. I love hearing about stuff like that and feeling like a wimp. I remember my Grandma talking about the Depression and how she and her siblings were born in a tent. What a tough generation!

Sienna said...

....and just the sheer time factor involved in everything, having to hitch up horses and hours on the road for infrequent trips to town..

The running of stoves, collecting and chopping wood, doing most things by hand..

We had a group of volunteers agree to live as early Australian Settlers and have it all filmed, (as on a sheep farm).

It just blew me away, the sheer physical effort for everything, and the isolation...and the heat, then extreme heat to freezing cold..

Your friend shifting to Oz, what part of the country I wonder, shifting to a full blown Australian summer in some places is a big challenge.

I had an old workmate/mentor friend (who passed away 2 years ago), visit me, in my dream...she was laughing and rattled the blinds in my bedroom, my little dog growled at her! There was no other reason that the blinds could have rattled, and I sort of saw her..I know it's difficult for others to understand but I think she visits me or is trying to communicate-(I only tell a few select few people this!). She was happy, her death was so sad, peaceful but sad and now she is happy. And mischievious!

Marion said...

What a wonderful story this is. There are so many similarities in your descriptions of your grandparent's places and the place where I grew up.

I was in my early teens when the house was updated to include running water and a bathroom. I remember using that two-holer in the dead of Winter. It was not a pleasant experience. But I remember the aluminum dipper...they must have been universal.

It is an unexplainable feeling when I receive visits from the recently passed, but I can say I always feel honoured. And relieved, because most always seem so happy.

Molly said...

Oh, goosebumps time!. This reminded me of visits to my uncle's house out the country. My uncle was a plain man but his wife was a very proper lady, so we were all ushered into the front room, which was reserved for state occasions. There we sat, being subjected to small talk and penetrating looks from the host grownups. Wondering, no doubt, how these children of the one who married a city boy would measure up! What sweet relief when the interrogation part of the visit was over and we could run outside to explore the barns and the fields and the chickens and the cows......

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What a lovely story, J.

Your friend's mother must have loved you a lot to stop by on her way out of town. You are probably more sensitive to such encounters than most, and perhaps she hoped that you would tell everyone that she was well and happy.