Monday, March 30, 2015
This was my recurring dream:
I am walking up a road with high banks on either side; it leads farther into the mountain and there is a white farmhouse at the end. Clouds are gathering; it is going to storm. Opening the screen door, I step inside the kitchen and there is an empty chair. An overwhelming sadness washes through me, carries me as if on a tide of grief.
"They have taken him away, they have taken him away."
The sadness is everything, everything.
* * * * *
Mama and Daddy worked second shift and I stayed with Granny and Grandpa. I slept between them at night. Grandpa always slept with his back to me, facing the night. It was like the great wall of the Blue Ridge.
In the summer, there was a box fan in the window and the warm, pink scent of mimosa settled on us like dew. The mantle clock marked each moment, striking it into forevermore, keeping time with Grandpa's breath. The night was like a rich, velvet blanket, stitched with the song of the whippoorwill and the gentle winds in the willow.
It was everything.
* * * * * *
In winter/spring of 1960, Grandpa was taken to the sanitarium at Catawba, across the mountain. They thought he had TB. Tuberculosis. Consumption.
It did consume us, all-consuming grief. I was not yet two years old. We believed he would die, Granny believed he would die. The tears turned to snow, and it piled up, snowing every week without melting until the snow drifted over roads and porches and pushed against chimneys. A soldier was found dead in his car at Fancy Gap, buried in a drift. We passed these banks of snow, bundled in Daddy's car, the sun glittering on our sadness. Our sadness was pure, so simple, profound as the cloudless sky between the blizzards.
There are memories I only have through my aunts' and my mother's description: I pitched a fit when they had to do a TB test, though it was painless. How could I trust these foreigners who had taken my Grandpa away? Then there was Grandpa's roommate, who years after would write to him and ask about his little girl. When Grandpa wrote letters home, they were addressed to me, "Dear Debbie and All."
After weeks of breathing treatments and rest, the doctors declared Grandpa did not have tuberculosis but had lungs scarred from years in the coal mines. They also declared that he had twenty-five years more to live. And though that power was not theirs, it was true.
* * * * * *
Grandpa had his chair at the table. If someone happened to be sitting in his chair when he walked in the room, they simply rose without a word. It was a small kitchen and Granny like to rearrange furniture. Sometimes all she could do was turn the table so it went longways instead of sideways. Grandpa's chair did not move, so his place at the table sometimes changed. His chair, always, in front of the window, facing the door, facing everything for me, for us, for all of us.