Late last week Crispi and I loaded the kids up and travelled to Meridian, MS. Normally the trip takes 4 hours each way; we made it in 5. Not bad. Certainly much better than I had expected. The kids were a dream. Felix slept most of the way and Stella napped a bit and played with apps on the iPhone. Seriously. How did we all survive without those things?! Our original plan was to stay at my aunt’s house, known as BB to Stella, for a night and then return to good ol’ Red Stick. The reason for this trip was largely my grandfather. He’s recently been moved into an assisted living type arrangement. I’m terribly embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t seen him in about a year. It just seems so hard to travel with kids, and Meridian isn’t a “fun” place to go. You go to visit, and kids aren’t much for sitting around and making conversation.
We ultimately stayed a second night. Stella was having a ball, it seemed a shame to travel that far for 24 hours, Will seemed to be doing well on his own (and was no doubt enjoying the peace, quiet and rest), and I had the benefit of my 2 aunts along with Crispi to watch the kids. If only I had that kind of help permanently, I’d be set!! I now see what they mean when they say it takes a village. You can do it without a village, but it’s not nearly as serene and simple.
But back to my main point.
My grandfather is my last surviving grandparent, sadly. He’s 91, which is pretty good. He’s always been the sweetest man you’d ever want to meet. He spent years taking care of my grandmother – his wife (obviously)- who had MS. That really became the keystone of his world. When she finally passed, I think he got lost a bit. His world just gradually got smaller and smaller. He tried volunteering for Habitat for Humanity for a while, but after a time that was no longer suitable. You never heard the man complain about anything. He was always pleasant and mild.
I can remember as a kid going to see my grandparents, often travelling from up north – Pennsylvania, mostly. I had a pattern I’d follow whenever we got to their house. I can remember running all the way to one of the back bedrooms to this massive closet first. That’s where the cool stuff was. There were these wonderful old 60’s era dolls – Barbie-ish things, but not slutty and tacky as well as what I guess was a Shirley Temple doll. There was also this neat old tea set, cast-iron old-fashioned toy stove, and old fishing hats. Nothing fancy, but I loved playing with it all. My grandfather would take me on walks around the neighborhood and we often went to stand on a small bridge over a creek. That creek was The River. I had roller skates there, the plastic kind that slip on over your shoes. It was awesome.
Their house had this smell. I couldn’t tell you what it was. It wasn’t floral or a food aroma. It was just the smell of their older house and the contents. I can still smell that smell on the tip of my brain when I think about it. It was a comforting, good smell. The same for my dad’s parents’ house. It had its own smell.
I’ll never smell that smell again. My grandfather is no longer in that house and my mom and aunts are in the process of cleaning it out for sale. And while I’m happy that my grandfather is ultimately in a better place for him at this stage of his life, I’m very sad I’ll never spend another night in that house. I do have possession of the old tea set. Stella has had a tea party on it once already, but I keep it up for special occasions. It’s that old enamel-coated base metal and the enamel is chipping. It’s a precious thing and I’m very happy to have it and have my own daughter and son (one day) use it, too.
My grandfather is different now. Without being insensitive or trite, he’s become a grumpy old man. There’s an edge now that wasn’t there before. It’s part of the aging process, I know, but it’s hard to see that happen to him. It’s like he’s become my Bizarro grandfather. He didn’t even hug me hello, which he ALWAYS did, and I had to kind of force a goodbye hug the evening before we left. He did respond well to Stella, which I’m very pleased about. I’m also very glad he got the chance to at least meet Felix.
As we left, I was struck with the knowledge that at least from my side of the family, my kids will never have those strong, powerful, nostalgic memories like I do of my grandparents’ houses. They won’t know a smell. Crispi is a nomad and we just don’t see my dad much. While I hope that changes as the kids get older and it’s easier for us to travel, I don’t know if it will be enough to anchor that kind of experience and emotion.