April 02, 2004
Going Backwards with my Grandfather
The first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my grandfather was devestating, more so than probably any of my extended family realized. Of course, none of them asked. It's not part of our family DNA to empathize, sympathize or god forbid, show weakness. Outward pain is a weakness - probably why so many of them intoxicated their bodies to conceal the transparency of their pain.
At that time, I started looking back on my life as if it were in the past....as if I was preparing to no longer exist, pave the way for my departure from this world. It's not as if I didn't 'want to exist' anymore - it was as if I was looking through his eyes and how he was paving the way for his departure before he died.
Because we were so close, it was as if his pain, reflections, thoughts and preparation into the afterlife had extended into my own soul, so I could feel it too. An extension of him really. I guess I always felt I was an extension of him in a way.
When you hold the hands of someone you love dearly who is dying, you feel their sensations, you feel them letting go, saying goodbye, flashing back to a series of lifetime memories.
When he had his flashbacks, I had my own and many of them were the same. My memories were often of this little girl running around with her male cousins in the back woods of Caroga Lake in upstate New York.
The camps were open, without fences, gates or gardens to keep the neighbors out. In the 1960s and 70s, it was about integrating neighbors into our daily lives rather than keeping them out.
We would run across the front lawns of each neighbor, stopping at each camp for a drink or a chat. We often carried with us, carved sticks we picked up from our mountain hikes, bags of unusually carved stones, snails and broken clam shells from the bottom of the lake.
One year, I had this 'thing' for saving corn husks from dinner the night before. It was as if elements from these husks would protect me in some way. Indian legend? It must have come from somewhere. My grandfather was always telling us stories of the Mohawks.
The visuals were always stronger than the sounds, although I remember the sounds of the barking dogs from two camps away, the kids who played hoop in Dr. Warner’s mudpit, the turtles in the sandbox and the sounds of my first love's 15 mph Evinrude aluminum fishing boat, often parked at the dock next door.
There were the lovers on the point, which was directly across the lake from our camp. You could often hear conversations late at night as the words echoed across the still water. You could hear a couple talking or kissing in a boat - somewhere in the middle of the dark lake, late at night. There were often men fishing in the dark and you could hear them casting their poles, chewing tobacco or smoking a pipe. Jimmy would play Foreigner and Rush until midnight but in the midst of it, you could still near the Storteckys playing Bridge on their front porch.
And then there was the Fourth of July crackers for two full days and nights, and kids would often scream well into the night.
Yes, I went back there with him. He traveled much further back than the 1960s, but I was able to share a few decades with him. What a treasure it was.
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