I'm in my Grandmother's house in West Virginia. A small town on the cumberland river, once hopping with railroad and coal. But my whole life it is a quiet once-was town. That I never hear enough stories of, and can never understand as much as I would like to. Four hours drive, through winding mountain roads to get there. And each year I start the drive from spacious valleys of southern Appalachia wondering... do I know where to turn?
Instinctually, I do.
As a wanderer, I take comfort and pride in sensing how to get places.
Four hours. So many drives to this tiny, mountain town that grew my parents and their families.
It's November. The air is damp and cold. The house is warm. Hot with cooking. Cozy in a way that only a Grandmother's house can be.
I score the end bedroom, with the floor vent over the kitchen. Smells. Conversations. I don't miss a thing. Crawling in bed I peek through a barely pulled curtain... snow. I sleep.
Each year, for the past 6, Thanksgiving dinner grows to include more and more sides. Sure, these "non-meat" items have been cooked with meat... it's my Grandma for land's sake! But they aren't "meat". A small attempt, what feels like a huge gesture to keep me eating delicious things on my favorite holiday. Aunts sneak me birthday cards. Geronimo steals homemade bread off the kitchen table. The McDonalds talk. And talk. And Talk.
My Grandma cooks, cleans, cuts into all of the pies lining the piano top, countertops, and most other surface space around the 4 story duplex.
She's cooked every persons' favorite pie. Homemade meringue. She bakes multiples of chocolate, cherry, whatever she thinks people will want to take home. She takes extra pie crust and bakes pinwheels. Sometimes there is homemade "hard tac". Always there is a box of Russell Stover's chocolates.
Grandma's bedroom is painted a minty green. She has gauzy, sheer curtains; in the day light the whole room... glows. Her nightstand has a very large study bible, and lots of devotionals. And a pen. And notes. And glasses.
In the night she will get up to use the bathroom... I always hope I don't run into her, she probably won't have the door shut.
I used to stay with different relatives. Aunts, cousins, different grandparents. But the more I understood who I am... the more I wanted to stay here. With Grandma.
Someone who welcomes me any time I can make it to her world. Someone who supports me in love no matter what crazy idea I have- college in Montana? She'll send me a card every holiday. She'll cross the country, using a walker in airports, to see me graduate a Grizzly... three times. She was bored, sure, but she was there.
To know, understand, and love someone despite their quirks is one of life's greatest miracles. And for ME to feel that way... at home and loved... I only wanted to sleep there.
The morning after the feast - we wake early. This year my sister and I setting alarm clocks, seeing Grandma in the kitchen, rather than being shook awake by matriarchs in the family. We dress, she drives, and we're at Chik fil a. Like so many other Fridays after Thanksgiving the past two decades. Sarah and I scrounge the doorbusters and sale racks. Grandma sits on the bench. She isn't barging into the dressing room to test our 12 year old bra size, but still offers opinions on fashions she finds... "drab".
She is tired. This year is different. But she watches us, and is happy.
We share our treasures over pizza lunch. And we go back to her home. I heat up egg noodles she's made extra of, so I can gorge myself on a favorite thanksgiving side.
When we eventually leave her town, I tell her how much I love her. She tells me the same. And we hug. Finally I thank her so much for all the food. For everything "You didn't even eat any turkey!" she scolds me. "Shame on you."
A year later is different. There is no small town teeming with stories of family childhood. There is no Chik fil a. The pies come from a box. My mom presents a beautiful table of food in my childhood hometown... vegetables, bread, meat, and I eat fish at this point, so she even makes fish.
A small collective of immediate family sit down, all I feel is tears.
It has taken over five years to figure out how to navigate my favorite holiday without my favorite person. I have hiked over 2,000 miles with our November birthstone, and slept hundreds of nights with the quilt her mother made... final gifts she left to me.
The first November after her death, I returned to her house. After a season in the market it had sold, was closing soon. I packed my car, and Geronimo, and stumbled through each instinctual turn of the drive, 4 hours.
We opened the door to a dark house. Furniture, gone. People, elsewhere. Refrigerator, empty.
I poured my four-legged child a bowl of food. I set up my backpacking bed in the middle of the floor. On the carpet. In the middle room. Where so many of us sat around a Thanksgiving table, together, for so many years.
With morning light, I walked. Ran my hands of the molding of the doorways. The carvings in the stair banister. The steepness of 4 flights of stairs no lady with crumbling vertebrae should have walked. The glow of a mint green walls.
A very quiet walk. Anything but empty.
To know true love, is to overflow. It is a feeling not from this confusing broken world we reside in. It is safety, understanding, honesty, dreaming, nurturing. Love- remains.
Others have left this world. Others have entered it. Others have moved, married, separated. Families and the people in them are but one constant - dynamic.
Seven years after that snowy Thanksgiving trip, I am a world away. I dine with the extended family of my Montana travels. There are teenagers, babies, siblings, dogs, food. I am NOT in Keyser, West Virginia.
Quietly, that feeling surfaces.
A warm home. A heart that knows, understands and supports me through the years. A full belly. A heartfelt goodbye hug. Love.
I drive across my Montana hometown, eventually settling into a mattress on the floor of a basement bedroom. Geronimo puts his weight against me, paws the wall with dream running, and snores.
I look at the molding around the windows and door frames; realizing, it's all still there.
The woman. The haven. The smells. That love now lives in me, because of her. Even if it is a memory, it is one embedded into my being.
I miss my Grandmother. There are so many times I need the grounded roots she brought to my life. Tears come, memories flood faster, but ultimately I know... she gave me everything I needed for as long as she possibly could. She grew in me a legacy of love.
And I am forever Thankful.