Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Will Always Remember You

This Memorial weekend we won't be visiting cemeteries. We'll be spending time at home, with our kids. So instead of buying bouquets for graves, I've decided to honor those who have passed with words and memories.


Darren left this world far too early. He was eight when he was riding a dirt bike with an older neighbor.  They hit a fence that had been erected across a path they frequently used.  Darren struck his head, and he never awoke. I was twelve at the time, my brother eight. I'll never forget the impact of losing someone we were close to - and I'll never forget the haunted look on the faces of the adults in our lives.

See, Darren was a dark-haired, blue-eyed, dimpled ball of energy. He was the boy who climbed the pine tree in their back yard, intending to jump from the highest branches like Steve Austin, the Six-Million Dollar Man. But upon reaching the top (which was much higher than their home), he realized he was afraid of heights, and froze. My uncle, who was no less afraid of heights, climbed the tree and retrieved his son, guiding him safely back to the ground.

Darren was loved by all who knew him. When we visited, he would wave at every neighbor as we walked to the park to play. His smile would grow and his dimples deepen when he talked about the next thing he planned to do. He was fun. He was full of life. He was lovely. Too lovely, apparently, for this world. 

At the time of his death, Darren had set himself and his older brother the task of raking the dry needles from beneath the huge pine tree to improve his 'fort' under the lower branches. He was building a large pile of needles and leaves, a pile he intended to burn like a volcano when he finished. He never got the chance.  My uncle sobbed after the funeral as he lit the pyre and watched it burn. 


Grandpa Mark and Grandma Nona lived on a small dirt lane on the north end of Logan. Their neighbors were few and far between, and they had horses in their pasture. There was always a treat waiting when we visited. As the years moved on, the quiet neighborhood became crowded. A hospital was built across the street, asphalt replaced dirt, and stores, condos and homes intruded.

Mark lived to 82, longer than the work horses that he loved, longer than many of his family members and friends. For years, his picture hung in the rest stop near Willard Bay, which thrilled him beyond words. There he was immortalized, leading his work horses around a field. It hung for a long time, but last time I looked, they had replaced it with newer pictures. He and his work horses were a relic from an age far gone.

Nona outlived him physically, but her mind failed her long before Grandpa was gone. She was the grandparent that sent me 'Teeny Tiny Teena' for a birthday, and she never spelled my name with an 'i'. She walked everywhere, until the day she couldn't remember how to get home. At Grandpa Mark's funeral, she didn't remember me, she didn't remember him, and she was lost in a world where she was still a very young lady, but nobody around her looked familiar.

When we visit Logan, I look for that lane, knowing I won't find it. I know where their house stood, and I still picture it in my mind as I look at the buildings that have replaced it.


Grandpa Yeates was the first grandparent I lost. I was nineteen when he passed, in the hospital on a street that used to be a dirt lane. When I think of him, I can still hear his gravelly voice, "Hello, Tina". His presence was warm, his eyes distorted by the thick glasses he always wore, his thin lips spread in a smile. Grandpa owned a service station on the edge of Logan, and when we would stop to see him on our way out of town, he always had candy to give us. Black licorice - the better to make messy kids, he'd say.

I'll never forget the last birthday party we had for him - 75 years old, a landmark. It was the last time I saw him conscious. He knew his heart was failing, and that he wouldn't be with us much longer, and he sat me by his side to impart a few words of wisdom.  His last requests of me were things he wanted for me, for my benefit. I've done pretty well at keeping the promises I made that day, but I'm still working on a few things. I think he knows I've tried, and I continue to try to live like he wanted me to.


Grandma Yeates was my last living grandparent. She'd tell anyone who would listen that she was too stubborn to die. It's true. She'd lasted through several bouts of cancer, fought disease and loss, and always emerged the victor. I believed her when she said she'd live to be 100. She gave up a little before then, telling us she was tired.

Grandma was a hard lady to know, a scary and imposing figure when I was a child. The more I learned about her life, the more I understood her need to keep people at arms length. She lost her mother when she was eight, her father drifted in and out of their lives. She was raised by her grandparents, and it wasn't a pleasant environment - they had hated her father, and she paid the price for her mother's choice to marry him.

Leona - that was her name - was a flapper in the 1920's. My favorite picture of her is from that era, her hair bobbed, her dress flashy. Her sister joined a traveling Vaudeville show. Leona stayed home and married my grandfather. But she sang at every opportunity - including more than 2000 funerals (even her own).

I'm grateful that she spent the last few years of her life close to our home, that I had a chance to know her, to appreciate her. And I'll never forget standing in her room on her 97th birthday as she breathed her last, the feeling of calm and peace as she slipped from this life into the arms of her family waiting on the other side.


Grandpa Vene was a favorite of the grandchildren. He had a loud, booming voice, and wasn't above telling scary stories at bedtime - full of owls hooting and wolves howling. We would taunt, and he would chase. As rough as he seemed, he loved us, and we always knew it.

Grandpa had a big garden, I think about 1/4 of an acre. He'd move the hose and chase the water down the rows, hoe in hand to clear obstructions. He'd grumble at us to 'get out of the garden', but I believe he loved it when we helped him. The vegetables from his garden were some of the best I've eaten in my life, and I miss strolling through the rows with him as he'd show me what he was harvesting.

One of Grandpa Euvene's (Vene for short) happiest moments was the day of his 80th birthday, when my first son was born. When we'd visit him in the hospital, he'd show Carson off, bragging about the grandson born on his birthday. We lost him not long after that. First to dementia, then to death.


Grandma Martha was - and always will be - one of my favorite people in the world. She never earned a degree, she wasn't a scholar or the head of a company, but she was the best teacher of compassion I've ever met. She shared her wisdom in quiet ways, in private moments. At her elbow, I learned to make a white sauce, and listened as she told me how much she appreciated how I helped my mom. In her front yard, I learned to quilt, and heard her talk about making good choices and working hard. The summer days spent at her home were some of the best days of my childhood. Root beer floats at the drug store, softball games in the park, and the best homemade cookies and cinnamon rolls in the world. Best of all, she gave me my mom, and taught her everything she knew.

When asked what item I would like from her home after she died, I requested her cookie jar. It sits on a cabinet in my kitchen, a constant reminder that there are people in this world who love me, and who always had time and a cookie for a little girl.

Her passing was hard, but she visits me still - in my dreams, and in quiet moments when I need her advice, I feel her loving presence, and I know all things will work out.


Smitty entered my life when I was fourteen - and angry. I didn't want my mother to remarry, especially not a man we barely knew, and who had issues from his past to tackle. But he did tackle them, and he was a good partner to my mother for 25 years.

There were many times when my brain (and mouth) took issue with Smitty's ideas. He was a staunch Republican, and grew up in an era when discrimination was normal. We'd spar, arguing over the 'rightness' of an issue or the qualifications of a politician. And I like to believe we both learned from each other.

He was far from perfect, but then, so am I. He loved us, and we learned to love him back. His family added a new element to ours, and though we never 'blended' perfectly, we are bound by our parents.

When Smitty passed, my children lost an amazing grandfather. He was there for them from birth, bringing 'cold bread' (ice cream) when they were sick, teaching them guitar, and singing for them. We all miss those moments.


There are so many others who have touched my life, who I owe a debt of gratitude.
  Bruce - a favorite cousin. He struggled to be who he was, moved to another city, and died young. AIDS took him from us. I miss his smile.

   Greg - John's cousin. A concert pianist, he played all night at our wedding reception. He, too, was taken by the dreadful disease that many call a curse for 'choosing a lifestyle'. He was a beautiful person.

   John, Jani, and Sheri Martin - close friends and neighbors. Each lost in a separate time and manner, but each tied to the tragic moment when Sheri was taken from them.

   Uncle Gary, a victim of smoking and leaded gasoline in a time before garages were vented. His manner was gruff, but he tried to impart how important health was before he left us.

   Aunt Dora, her fingers forever playing the organ or a piano.

  Uncle Clyde and his big-bellied laugh.

There are others, friends, children of friends and family members, acquaintances, neighbors, each of them leaving an imprint in my life. Their lives touched mine, and I was shaped by them, in part.

Though they are gone, they will never be forgotten.

{I invite any who read this to mention someone who touched their own life - in memory of them - in the comments.}