Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A secret project and revisiting the beads

I've left the beads for too long again. I know this because when I start reentering all the cases and looking over all the beads, I feel this longing to just dive in. There's a thousand projects within those cases, a million different ways to stay busy.

But I couldn't dive in headlong, no matter how much I wanted to. Instead I was in my bead case for a direct purpose. I've had the need since I got back home from Iowa to repay a few of the kindnesses I received while I was there. A few of my family members were very generous with their time and attention and I think that kindness should be rewarded.

So, I finally completed some secret projects to reward those kindnesses. Took me long enough, but I got it done.

What's the secret project about, you may be asking yourself? Well, it involves Clare's beads. You guys may remember that I've received beads and jewelry from all three of my mom's sisters, as well as my mom herself. Well, I decided to use some of those beads for my little project and I hope the intended recipients enjoy it.

I'll update you on this with pictures after I've sent them off.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dear Clare, Part VII

Dear Clare;

"We all lost our best friend today." Your husband, my uncle uttered that right after you passed away. One of the gruffest men I've ever met, the very same man who blew off his right hand trying to remove a tree stump with dynamite uttered that.

That succinct bastard.

He basically said what I've been trying to say in all these letters I've been writing you. You were a lot of things to a lot of people but above all things, you were their best friend. And that's a pretty damned good legacy to leave behind.

But you didn't really leave did you? We pulled up to your farmhouse, up the driveway next to your rose garden and I see a whole mess of people sitting round the garden table and I felt you watching over everyone.

I entered the house through the side door that has the stairwell leading down to the basement and the steps leading up to the kitchen and saw a whole other mess of people in the kitchen and dining area. It's exactly as I'd hoped, people are talking and carrying on and eating, and eating, and eating. That sounds about right. It's like you never left. I can feel you everywhere.

I did get to walk the 3/4 of the floors of your expansive farmhouse. I also got to peek at the attic stairs but I couldn't walk up there this time. It's close enough. It's changed some, your house, new floors, a new paint job inside and out, the claw foot tub in the upstairs bathroom is gone.  Also, there's some things that don't match up to my memories, like your canning and jam room was dingier and more cramped than I remember but that's besides the point. But its still got your signature all over it. You're not haunting it. By all accounts, your dead mother-in-law is if the stories are to be believed. I think you're blessing it instead. I feel you looking down and smiling from every corner.

But there's still a notable absence there. In particular, and I'm sorry for the all caps, but it has to be said: THERE IS NO NANA JAM! You left us in a nana-jamless world, and it is a world I am not prepared to live in. What's more is that your family is scrambling to figure out the recipe for not only your nana jam, but your triple berry pies and your cobblers. It's a sad state of affairs. You took a legacy of food and canning knowledge with you for the most part and every one is scrambling to figure out just what you did and how you did it.

I don't mean to infer that your only legacy is food, but it has left a big impression on a lot of people. And I think your food is an analogy for how you were in life. You filled everyone up with love and happiness and joy. And now that you're gone alot of those of us in your life won't ever be filled up quite the same way again.

I'm not sure if I've had the chance to properly grieve you yet. I went to Iowa for a lot of reasons, to be there for my mom, the have my daughter meet our big family, to see family I haven't had the chance to in years, and to grieve your passing, but that one didn't happen. I was too busy with my daughter and with attempting to help with other people's grief that figuring out my own didn't really factor into the equation. In truth, these letters were me grieving you, letting you go in increments. Maybe that's all I really needed. Maybe what I needed was just to be a port in a storm, another body to press up against and another shoulder to cry on. I have to say it felt good to at least be that, to hug your grandchildren as it became too much for them, to just let them have at it and to know I was there for them. I wanted to be so much more, but there wasn't enough time for that.

I still have your beads you know. I have a few ideas of what I'm going to do with them to. Your family is going to need you close and I hope to give that to them when the time comes.

I'm rambling now, but what else is new?

This will be my last letter to you. It's obvious I'm grasping at things to say and ways with which to process my grief. All I have left to say is something I've already said before. I love you, and you will be missed.


Your niece Tylia 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Clare, Part VI


I just got the call. Well, I mean I missed a call then called back and got the news. You passed away around 4:30 your time, just as the day was winding down.

I'd make some profound statement about that, but I think I'm out of them.

In general, I'm just out of gas. I can't even find tears right now. I'd express them if I could. I called my best friend this morning, also known as my release valve and unburdened myself on the groggy, waking unsuspecting girl. And she handled it the way she always has. She was my shoulder to cry on and my a word of friendly advice.

She said she'd pray for you.

I don't know why I'm telling you all of this. Doesn't matter much now anyway. The only thing that does matter is getting there. I need to be with everyone and feel that connection. I need my mom to see her granddaughter's shining face and to hug as many necks as possible. I need to be inside that house again, and walk the floors again and have a meal at your table again.

I need to see if I can smuggle some of your Nana jam out of your canning room. How many jars  do you think I can cram into my luggage until A) the family starts to get suspicious or B) TSA corners me in a locked room and does some serious questioning? I guess we'll find out.

Most of all, I'm hoping to feel your presence beaming down on me while I'm there. I'm hoping for some profound moment, like the butterflies. But I don't think that's your thing. I'll settle for the best damn bowl of rhubarb cobbler I've ever had as a sign that you're ok.

Love you;


Dear Clare, Part V

Dear Clare;

I decided to ask my mom some questions. I needed specifics. Just knowing that you were in the house and that there was a press of people around you wasn't enough for me anymore. I wanted some blanks filled in so that my mental picture of what is happening was more detailed.

"So who all is there?"

"Everybody," mom said emphatically.  "Well, (your cousin) M might be out the grandkids keeping them busy and Cindy is going to take them canoeing later today."

I smile at this. There's something comforting in the idea that your grand children are still doing the things kids do during the summer in Iowa. Swimming pools, river runs, anything to keep them busy. This sounds like something you'd do.

"Her hospital bed is exactly where her recliner was," my mom said, filling in some more blanks.

"Right in the center of the living room?" I ask.

"Yep, so she's still overlooking everyone from her perch and so she can see her roses."

"That's absolutely perfect," I say, tears running down my cheek. It's definitely not what I had imagined, but its better in ways I didn't expect. You're not in a back room, hidden away, you are right in the middle of the action like you always have been.

I remember you sitting in your chair, pictures of your grandchildren just above you, watching people walk in and out, giving commands and directing your grandchildren, rolling your eyes as the boys brought out the tinker toys again and started building contraptions.  I remember you hiding the tinker toys at one point, putting an end to the shenanigans. It's exactly where you should be.

Your body is working hard now, too hard it sounds like. Every breathe is a small victory, however labored. Mom said that its blood fighting blood right now. That sounds familiar.

I made arrangements to come to you. I'm bringing my daughter. I want her to experience the house, to run around with all her cousins in your yard and walk through your garden. Mom says your strawberry patch is picked over, but there are plenty of raspberries that we can pick and she can eat. Also, I'm promised rhubarb cobbler. I can not wait to get there.

That may be wrong, to be excited to be at someone's funeral, but I don't think you'd see it that way. In fact, I sort of wonder if you didn't plan it this way. That sounds horrible to say, but I think its true. To have everyone under your roof on a fine summer day, with your garden in bloom, and all of your grandchildren playing out in the yard, to celebrate you sounds just like you.

I wish you peace today.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dear Aunt Clare, Part IV

Dear Clare;

Things keep changing quicker than I can keep up with them. Every phone call is something new. In fact there were two different updates, only an hour apart from each other that let me know how quickly things have escalated.

First, mom left a message that said everything was the same from yesterday and not an hour later, dad called and said your breathing patterns have changed and so your days have just dwindled to hours. I kept saying okay in a stern fashion over the phone to my dad and he said "Damn it Tylia I'm trying to ramble here and you aren't letting me."

I guess that's our different coping mechanisms at work. I'm full steam ahead in this sort of situation and my dad needs to ramble, to work his way however slowly to what he's feeling, what he may be doing.

I haven't called my mom yet to find out exactly what's going on with you. I don't know why. It sounds like, with hospice and everybody around, my call would get in the way. Also, by making that call, I'd be making plans like you're already gone and I can't do that. Chris says to wait until I get the call, the final call, before I do anything, like make plans to get to Iowa. He's right.

I don't know what room in the house you are in, because god there are so many. I think its your bedroom, or that room you use as the office right next to it. I somehow imagine the room bathed in a gentle light  and all of the assembled family looking on at you as your basking in it. I hope that's a close approximation for what's going on right now. I hope you're content and I hope that all of them, and I do mean every single one of them, are there to meet you on the other side.

I hope its the family reunion I've always imagined it to be. I use to imagine heaven as a big bowling ally with a bar where my uncles would all drink, cuss and carry on together. I have no idea why, but that's what I dreamed up when I was nine. Now I hope its a big porch over looking a beautiful garden and an incredible yard like you have at your house and the sun is perpetually setting and everyone just sits on the porch and relaxes, taking turns holding Ukiah and chasing him through the grass. And they've just pulled up another seat for you, and Randy's sidled up right along side you. Everybody's just talking and carrying on like there's been no time between you.

I wish you everything you want on the other side Aunt Clare.



Dear Aunt Clare, Part III

Dear Clare;

"It's not worth going out while she's still alive. Your mom says its probably best if you wait until the funeral if you are going to come out." That sentence hit me like a brick.

"It's days, not weeks now," my dad said.  I guess I won't be getting that moment I want.

"She's more comfortable than she is lucid right now. You wouldn't get much time in with her anyway. There's mess of people under that house as is." That last sentence was a given.

I know you're surrounded by love. This does my heart good. Mom hasn't mentioned who is there, but I imagine it's just about everyone. All four of your kids probably go in and out, the older grand-kids probably take turns, my mom is pretty darn vigilant. I have to think Steve and Deb and probably Linda stop by and put time in as well. I can feel the love in the room hovering over you. I'm sending my love to you as well.

Mom says that when you are lucid, you're pretty tranquil, using words like glorious and at peace. Mom says that uncle Merle is powering through this like he does everything else, but she caught Uncle Merle at your bedside holding your hand in the early morning hours. If that doesn't sum up your marriage, I don't know what does.

Mom says you've talked some about Grandma and Ukiah, and heaven. I was too busy crying to really digest that conversation. Something about Grandma and Aunt Jan holding him. Mom made you promise you'd fight for some Ukiah time on the other side. I hope you do. I also hope you get to hold Randy again, that the two of you get to spend some quality time in a garden somewhere.

A revelation hit me yesterday that I was unprepared for. You, I, and Grandma are three generations that know what its like to lose a child, to feel that ache and have to carry it for the rest of our days. That's something neither you or I ever discussed. I always felt that this was something Grandma and I shared and somehow excluded you out of the group, and I'm just barely realizing it with your passing. I wish we'd talked about it in some way, however brief, but we never did. And now, that connection will pass when you do. I'm trying to unearth a profound nugget in this revelation, but I can't seem to dig it out of the ground.

I'm not sure what else to say, so I guess I'll just say what we both know.

I love you and I'll miss you always;


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dear Aunt Clare, Part II

Dear Aunt Clare;

"Hospice is here. The prognosis is not good." That's what the text message read yesterday. The threads of the time we have with you seem to be disappearing as we speak.

"We might have weeks. We might have days," my mom said when I called. "She's as comfortable as we can make her."

I still haven't decided what to do yet. That old farmhouse could house an army, and has, sort of, but do I want to be in it during this difficult time? I don't want to feel like a burden, like another body the family has to maneuver around, but I still have this urge to have a moment with you, however brief. I don't know that this is my right though, that it's something I deserve to have, but I want it anyway.

I don't know whether to bring your great-niece either. She's not making memories right now, so I wouldn't be introducing the two of you for her benefit. You've never seen her, except for in my womb, and I think you'd love to meet her, but what would that meeting do? Would it bring you a measure of peace? Because if so I'm on the next plane out.

So many questions lingering in the ether.

I still haven't decided what to do about a rosary either. I know you have one. It's a bracelet, not a full-length rosary, but grandma is still with you. The sad thing is, right now, I can't remember which one is yours. I didn't document it here like I should. I have pictures though, but sadly, there were so many I don't remember which one what yours. How sad is that? Is this one it?

Or was it this one?

I can't quite remember.

I want to make you a full length one, and I want everyone to be incorporated. I have so many beads now, from so many people. Imagine if I could make you one, with beads from your grandmother, from all your sisters, yes even Jan, and even Lisa, and from your mother's sisters and from your daughters. How beautiful would that be, to have this rosary, or necklace, or this super long chain that has piece of everyone you love near you when you need comfort.

Would you like that? Would that bring you peace? Because I'd do it in a heartbeat.

So many questions, and all of the sudden more tears than I know how to handle. I have a lot to figure out ad not a lot of time to do it in, but no matter what I chose, I'll be thinking of you and wishing you peace.

Aunt Clare, I love you.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Dear Aunt Clare

Dear Aunt Clare;

Please, for the love of all things holy, give me your recipe for Nana Jam. Not that I'll have much luck ever making my own jams, but I still want the recipe. This, above all else must go on after you leave us. This isn't your only endearing legacy and its definitely not your most important, but it is your most tasty, and its one of my most indelible memories of you.

I can remember watching your grandchildren squabble over the remaining bit of Nana Jam in one of those Kerr's jars. I've seen family bonds almost ruined over one jar of gifted Nana Jam.  I don't know how serious some of my cousins were when they said it was going to come to blows, but I think they were pretty damned serious. Your Nana Jam is the stuff of legend and as such, it is meant to be preserved and shared through generations.

I can remember tasting it.  It was as if sunshine exploded over my taste buds. Am I using a little bit of Hyperbole? Maybe, but I'm not to far off. I could taste the love in each bite. Sun ripened, wild raspberries picked straight from the vine probably by Uncle Merle were painstakingly put into a jam and jarred by you over your basement stove and lined the basement shelves, along with your canned green beans, sweet peas, snap peas, and beats you've grown in your garden and prepared yourself. I've always loved this and admired this about you.

It seems weird that I'd want to talk about this first. There's so much more I could be talking about. Maybe I could talk about your farmhouse and how much it feels like home to me. I feel the love in every single nook and cranny in that house. I walk in your garden, and I feel at peace. I walk in and I feel compelled to walk the floors. I walk down to basement, through your canning room, past the stove and hang out in the romper room. I go back up the stares and hang out in the kitchen before rounding the corner to the door that leads to the stairs and the rest of the house. I walk up the steep stairwell and down the hallway, surveying each of the bedrooms. I have to walk down the side of the hallway because the wood floor is warped in the center and creaks something awful. It's been that way ever since I can remember. I go back up the hallway, careful to stay to side again, and admire the claw foot tub in the bathroom, even if this guest bathroom doesn't have a shower. I go to the small room just off the stairs and find another door leading to another set of stairs that leads to the attic. I walk up them and admire the attic for just a second. I never stay in this room long. It's always too hot in the summer, and way too cold in the winter, but I admire it as well. I walk back down, shut the door and leave the room. I look through the hallway window at the balcony just off the hallway. I have no idea if the door leading to that balcony even works or not, much less the last time anybody has ever been out on it. Then I walk downstairs and hang out with the rest of the family, chatting amiably as we always do. This too seems like a weird thing to talk about in the context of you.

You are so much more than the things you make or the house you live in. But to me, they'll always be linked to you. I could make up some bullshit story about how they are symbols for who I think you are, that the jam was the nourishment you provided your family and that the house somehow symbolized the love you have for your family, because you could fit your whole family in it. No seriously. I believe we once had what 20 or 30 people staying under your roof for one of our gatherings. We were scattered on three different floors, but we were all in there, somehow. But that's just some English 101 symbolism I'd try to make fit to describe you.  It's not who you are.

I'm worried that the reason these two things pop into my head most is those are the strongest connections I have to you. Don't get me wrong, there's still so much about you that I remember, but these seem to be the stand outs. I hope that's not the case, that I haven't spent the last 34 years of my life letting you just be some minor player in my life, flitting in when events happened in the family, like your son's death, or my wedding, or my son's death and then flitting back out again. You mean so much to me and the idea of you leaving me breaks my heart like all the other losses have broken it before.

I know I still have some time left, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what to do with it. Do I make the trek to Iowa with my daughter so you can meet your great-niece in person? Do I call you just to talk? Am I allowed to ask questions about your life, your experiences? Would you be willing to share? Can I have something a bit more tangible to give my daughter so that when she asks, 'What were grandma's sisters like' I know what to tell her?

But really I'm sitting here wishing that we weren't just family, that you haven't just been my aunt for all this time, but that we were good friends, that I had these answers to my questions already. But we still have some time left and I'll be damned if I won't make it count.


Your niece Tylia

P.s. I am serious about the Nana Jam recipe though. If you haven't written it down, do so now. Preserve this for the ages. Give it to me. I want to learn. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Memories of Karen

Not sure what brought up the memory, as long buried as it was. But the second I conjured it up into my consciousness, I suddenly felt very childlike and innocent. I’m not sure why memories of Karen and T evoke those feelings, why those memories and those emotions are tied so closely. Perhaps it’s because most of those memories were just perfect moments, that they best embodied what it meant to be a child and childlike. They are bliss, but they are also bittersweet.

I remember snippets, bits and pieces. There was that weekend, (or were there multiples?), where I stayed in their tiny mobile home trying not to get attacked by their tiny little Chihuahua Spud, which was difficult because he was so easily provoked. I can remember going to the flea market and picking out a bunny that I was so sure was going to be mine, but was told it would be Karen’s but I could play with it for as long as I was there. I remember purchasing this awesome wicker basket at a garage sale while Karen watched on. I can remember going to a mall with Karen and the determination I had in spending what little pocket money I had on a whoopee cushion. There was that day spent ice skating with her as my parents looked on. There was also the day she convinced me to get a new hairstyle (said hairstyle was a spiked mullet, and yet the memory still brings me happiness). Soon after those perfect, wonderful childlike thoughts, I immediately flash forward to their wedding, how beautiful it was, how that was a perfect end to a perfect summer, just whiling away my time at the beach, body surfing, finding shells and sand dollars and staying up until 5 am one morning crab fishing with my cousin. I remember flashes of the wedding and the rehearsal dinner and dancing and how perfect it was and how perfect Karen looked and how handsome T was.

I don’t remember the chronology, if Karen was pregnant with Clayton T or if they’d already lost him before the wedding, and because I don’t remember the timeline, I start wracking my brain to remember the chain of events as they happened, but I’m too besieged by sadness now, by the heartbreak they went through, which brings me to remembering my own heartbreak and loss. The story of their loss mirrored my own and it feels interwoven and connected in a way I dare not explain because I don’t want to risk reopening multiple wounds.

Suddenly I flash to that day my dad visited Karen in the hospital. She was on her deathbed and because I was too young at the time, I had to stay in visiting room. She died soon after that visit. I never got to directly say goodbye. She had a profound impact on so many aspects of my life and I never got to tell her that. I still think of her when I smell bitter apple or milk honey lotion. She’s so closely tied to who it is that I am and it always takes me by surprise. I love you Karen and thank you for shaping me in ways big and small.