I have just returned from a two-week venture loaded with good memories and the usual accompanying sad thoughts for what’s been lost of time and place. My purpose for staging another long range road trip was two-fold. The first was to complete a task I had set for myself in how I was to distribute my mother’s ashes. The second was to attend a reunion of my high school classmates, celebrating the 50th anniversary of our graduation from what I once deemed as nothing more than a prison functioning under the guise of a secondary education.
My first stop was in the small Oklahoma town where my mom was born and raised and married. Her parents are buried there; the mother she knew and always referred to as her best friend, the father she didn’t know as he died just a few months before his only daughter was born. Standing at the foot of their respective grave sites I spoke to them as I spread a portion of my mother’s ashes on the ground covering their entombed bodies. To my grandmother I said I was returning her little girl to her. To my grandfather I said I was bringing him the little girl he never had the opportunity to hold and love and cherish.
Such foolish sentimentality seems to well up inside of me from time to time and must find its release or else threaten to nag me to my own dying day. So on that occasion, as I considered my family heritage represented in those markers imparting the bare facts of my grandparent’s existence, the words could not be constrained, my moccasined feet getting wet from the heavy dew saturating the long grass of a small town cemetery.
Stop two was many miles down the road to another cemetery, this one in Southern California where I was born and raised and did my best to endure the drudgery of that education I did not appreciate until too much time had passed to redress my contempt for intellectual discipline. The gravesites I stood over this time were those of my father’s and my older brother’s. And once again I poured out a ritual of emotional complaint for what was lost as I literally poured out the remaining portions of my mother’s ashes on the graves of my loved ones in an attempt to unite us all together one more time. Then the moment passed.
That evening was the gathering of my high school classmates at the home of one of our own, who had done exceeding well during the intervening years. It was a good time, tinged with an undeniable sadness, however, as someone had carefully created a memorial to those who had passed away during those same intervening years. And on that memorial were the names of three of my closest friends from school. Since we had lost contact with one another not long after graduation, knowing of their deaths at what strikes me now as being an early age – as I intend to enjoy many more years on this planet if I can help it – troubled my conversations a bit with those with whom I could reminisce for awhile.
My two-week journey strikes me as having been comprised of a series of farewells to family and friends and places we had in common. The final of these caught me by surprise. I was on the road headed for home, when I came to a parting of the ways in Barstow where I-15 heads for Vegas and I-40 goes due east towards Needles and my past. Nearly every summer our annual vacation consisted of a trip “back east” to see the family members who remained in Oklahoma and Texas. Even before there was an interstate highway system, we headed this way to travel Route 66 across the desert to see and go camping with aunts, uncles, cousins and our beloved grandma, the family matriarch. But on this occasion I chose I-15 as offering the shortest route to my other home, my Wisconsin home. And watching the sign for the I-40 transition pass me by, I was saddened by the realization that the road no taken that morning was an act of saying good-bye to all that had once been of primary importance to me.
Life is not static. Memories come dear. I am now caught up in another type of passage as I have accepted an offer to purchase my house. Sorting, packing, distributing, and disposing of clothes, furniture, tools, toys and the other assorted ephemera of a lifetime occupies my time as does writing about the experience. The words on the computer screen come as affirmation of that silly sentimentality once again demanding its opportunity for expression so that I won’t have to endure the threat of being nagged to my own dying day.