Friday, March 29, 2013

THE GRAND EXIT

"That's where we used to catch the school wagon, right there on the corner." Mom looked wistfully over the landscape, out there in the desert on the outskirts of Blackfoot, Idaho.  We stopped and gathered a handful of sage at the side of the road, bringing its fresh aroma to the car as we drove back to Salt Lake. I imagined our mother as a girl, a small dark haired bundle who ran after her sister Mae, jumping up onto the horse drawn wagon, its canvas top rolled up in the warmth of a late spring day. I inhaled in my imagination, with the aid of that sprig of sage, the scent of her daily ride two miles into town: the pungent blend of horse sweat and sage combined with sandy Idaho dust. It's a smell you could grow to love,
My mother's lifespan covered a remarkable time in the history of our world.  From the days of riding a wagon to school, to taking classes online from a computer on the kitchen table, she was witness to the shifting of seasons, both figurative and literal. She was one of the first in her profession to use computers, back in the early 70's.  She learned to input information and retrieve it on massive archaic machines in her real estate office in Pittsburgh. She didn't love it, but she did it.
 
I still remember our first colored television, years after the old black and white tube TV in the console with the record player had given up the ghost. .  It was previously owneed by a neighbor, and it had a remote control with a wire attached to the TV.  You could actually change channels and adjust volume without getting off the couch!
 
I recall that first car mom bought with a loan in her own name.  It was a pivotal event in our lives.  Dad had abandoned ship and we were stranded in Idaho, with school starting in Pittsburgh in a few days. Mom's Parrish name gave her good standing with a dealership in Blackfoot, who gave her a loan. Off we drove in a brand spankin' new green Charger with an eight track tape player.  We listened to Shirley Bassey and Perry Como all the way across the country, that new car smell embracing us, our new found sense of self rising with the miles behind us.
 
In her last peaceful days at home mom listened to her favorite music on the iPad Ann Marie bought her, which Kate had loaded with thousands of songs.  Some of those old tunes retrieved from the iPad were ones that had played on the old wind up Victrola, then on the old family radio, then the eight track, cassette, Cd and iPod.  The constants were the songs.  Only the vehicles changed.

Here is a photo of the last vehicle our mother rode in.  Reminiscent of her first:


Mom was a lover of all things sentimental, though in many ways she was a pragmatic.  She was, after all, a child of the Great Depression.  She embraced the new, but she loved the old.  She was a collector of fine old things, not just for their monetary value, but for the emotion her antiques evoked.  Her home was filled with beauty, and tender sentiment. Not only was she willing to trade her hard earned money for beautiful old items, she was a lover of old places.  She took advantage of the fortunate setting of my childhood, there in the eastern US, where so much history had unfolded.  We made numerous trips to Williamsburg, Jamestown, Plymouth Plantation and Boston and the rocky coast of Maine, to the ghostly fields of Antietam and Gettysburg, the patriotic atmosphere of Annapolis and Washington DC. She travelled with us to the sacred grounds of old Nauvoo, before it was restored as it is today, and we walked on quiet feet into the Sacred Grove in upstate New York. Philadelphia and New York and Niagara Falls and so much more.  I bless her name when I think of all she took advantage of.  One day she read in the Pittsburgh Press that there was a special exhibit of Grandma Moses paintings being shown in Vermont, so she loaded us into the car after school on Friday.  We slept in the car as she drove.  Next morning we all walked into the exhibit hall and  by that afternoon we knew who Grandma Moses was.  One of the finest things my mother left me was the belief that I can continue to change, to grow, until the day I die.   Grandma Moses began painting in her 70's, and at age 88 was selected by Mademoiselle Magazine as Young Woman of the Year.  Mom's zest for life followed the path of Grandma Moses in many ways. When her legs stopped working, she was happy to use a wheel chair because it could get her where she wanted to go. She was spontaneous and vivacious, willing to adjust plans immediately when opportunities presented themselves. Our car veered off the paved road more often that I can recall, something or other having caught the corner of her eye.  She taught us to see peripherally, while still being conscious of the important objectives ahead of us.  That's a real art, you know.  The longer I live, the more rare I see that ability to be. Capture the moment.  Seize the day. Be willing to leave the plan for the opportunity.
When I was a senior in high school the Bicentennial Wagon Train was passing through Pittsburgh on its way from California to Valley Forge.  School was almost out.  A friend of my Aunt Mary was driving the Alaska wagon with his beautiful team of horses.  The oldest wagoneer on the train, Zavan invited us to hop on the wagon and ride for the next month.  We had to go home to finish the last few days of school.  But when it was over, Mom drove us to where the train was camped and dropped us off, leaving us in Zavan's care, with a case of Campbell's chicken noodle soup, some peanut butter and crackers, and a bit of cash for emergencies.  Libby and Ann Marie and I rode and walked to Valley Forge, flirting with the outriders, waving at citizens lining the streets of small towns tucked into the hillsides of Pennsylvania.  It was an incredible opportunity, one never to be relived but in my vivid memory, and I am thankful that she was willing to let go and let us go. One month later I met a fellow named Dave Connors and less than a year later I was married to him and a year after that I was a mother. Thanks, Mom, for seeing the moment and grabbing it for me.  
 
The last ride my mother took was fitting for one such as her. An old horse drawn hearse, restored with stunning beauty.  We presented my mother for her final viewing in the chapel of the old rock church on Main Street in Farmington, the one where the first Primary was established in the late 1800's.  The mural behind her casket depicts that first meeting. 

 
Her five daughters spoke, each of us choosing a word or two that represents our mother to us. Mine was "Beauty".  Sherry's was "Cultured", Libby's was"No Fear".  Ann Marie spoke of "Quiet Strength" and Sue talked about "Knowing When to Be Still." Our children recited poetry they had learned from their Gram, and John and I sang.  The grand-daughters sang Where Can I Turn for Peace, with such lovely harmonies I could almost hear the sighs of the angels.   After our friend and bishop sealed his love with tender words, Gram's grandchildren gathered around her pine casket and bore her to the waiting hearse in the back of the church.  Girls, and boys grown into men and women:  all strong and able and proud to bear her.  The only ones missing were Joseph, who is serving a mission in Prague, and Clayton, who may have been there, we just couldn't see him. I have no doubt he was there with his Gram.
 
We who loved her and were able to walk travelled behind her, the pace of the horses being just right for our mournful legs.  It was one simple mile to the cemetery.  The Farmington Police were gracious and kind, holding traffic so we could cross over State Street.  Nanette and Harv Jepson, sensitive to the heat of the late August day, ran up ahead and bought cases of cold water from the Chevron gas station, handing it out to all of us as we passed.  Elliott walked directly behind the hearse, watchful of his Gram, owning the labor of love he had given in the building of her casket. He was going to get her safely to her resting place. Dave and I walked beside Mark who noted that this 100 degree day was maybe not the best time to wear black. As we walked we sang.  As we sang we laughed, and cried, and laughed again, wiping the sweat from our brows.  I lifted the weight of my black skirt to allow the air to cool my legs. 
 
 
 
At one point there was a hub bub up ahead, and I lifted my eyes from my watchful steps on unsteady feet to see my son John and son in law Jordon scaling the rock wall between a small subdivision and 200 East.  Apparently there were roofers working on a house.  When the horse drawn hearse appeared around the bend in the street, with a crowd of mourners following behind, one of the workers was so stunned he fell off the roof.  Fortunately it was a single story house and he was OK, but our boys were sure quick to scale that wall and make sure of it.   Now, when we drive to visit our mother's grave, we pass by that house and cannot help but smile. 
 
When we got to the corner of the cemetery, where we turned up hill to the grave site, Marilyn Hone stood with her grand daughters, their hands over their hearts.  It moved us to tears.  The love among the people who lined that street and who walked behind her hearse must have radiated to the heavens. 

 
 
We laid our mom under the restful arms of a beautiful Sycamore tree.  We have placed a lamb at the spot where we will set her headstone.  Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we laid a spray of palms under a small red heart her great grandson Calvin had placed on her grave. They fanned out toward the sweet purple hyacinths my sisters placed there a couple weeks ago.  Spring is finally returning, bringing with her the hope of new life.

Had my mother, when she was young and I was sitting beside her in the front seat of our car, seen such a lovely sight as that funeral entourage coming up the street, she surely would have turned the car around, made us get out to the car, and told us to be reverent as it passed. 
Gram's Greats follow behind her.
 
She was a grand lady.  With a grand exit.  How we loved her. How we love her still.

2 comments:

  1. oh how i love her. and how very dearly i mmiss her!

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  2. You girls look just like her, Cori! You all have her kind, warmth and welcoming smiles. My sweet father joined my dear mother in November; today they are "dancing IN the stars!"

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