Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy and Sad Defined

One week ago at this time we were celebrating our daughter’s graduation from nursing school. It was a joyful day.  Between dear daughter, Torie, and myself, the cake was on its way, the food was prepared, the camera was ready and we were all dressed.  I loaned the graduate one of my very favorite dresses and Amélie was coordinated perfectly.  Torie and I were on an electric blue kick with her wearing a fabulous sweater that seemed to have been created for the electric blue heels that I wore.  Don’t remember what the guys wore…….not important….oh not quite true……Xander had a knock-out suit on with handsome black loafers.   He was dapper.
Alexander, Torie, Ashli and Amélie
It was kind of a dreary, rainy day…..but we were all sunshiny inside.  As soon as the auditorium was filled, Amélie looked down at the graduating class and shouted out, “Where’s my Mama?”  Of course this 3-year-old couldn’t totally wrap her young brain around a college graduation but she knew it was a very special day.  To top it off, she had learned just where to insert her new word,   “gra-du-A-shun” into the melody of Happy Birthday.  Ashli was glowing and she got a few extra minutes in the spotlight on stage due to a “hood malfunction” on the other end of the stage.  But when they finally said, “Ashli Jansen,” she moved on cue and received that little piece of parchment and the apricot hood that will always be a part of her.  AI watched her on stage, I could hear my own mother in my head saying “they can never take your education away from you.” 

The party was fabulous.  We had so much fun making champagne toasts to the graduate and sharing good food and yummy nurse’s cake together.  We were celebrating well into the evening until Ashli brought my cell phone to me and said, “Mama, it’s Mamaw……and it’s not good.”   My dear cousin, Brent, had just passed away.   I’m pretty sure I was immediately transformed from a fairly good hostess to one that made her guests feel very uncomfortable and looking for an escape route (my apologies to everyone).  One of the best days ever quickly became one of the worst days ever.

We’re a week down the road now.  Ashli has moved on from graduate to job hunter and expert packer as they prepare to move in to their new place this weekend.  Greg and I have been to Indiana and back to grieve with our family as we laid our dear cousin to rest.  There’s a new addition to the family – the little guy who made Brent a great uncle.  Elliot will never get to know first-hand what a great uncle his great uncle was.  Is that why I just keep crying?  This is not the first loss we’ve had in our family but it seems especially difficult and I can’t quit dissecting the reasons why I haven’t been able to keep any mascara on for a week now. 

Walb and Bertie Wyant had four grandchildren from their first two sons within the span of four years.  I am the eldest and within ten months came my cousin, Greg.  Then within three years, I had a sister, Denise,  and Greg had a brother, Brent.   We were it for a long time – the main act.  We shared Sunday dinners at Grandma’s; we hunted Easter eggs and ate at the little kid’s Christmas table at Nelle and Ruth’s;  we pushed each other on the tire swing at Grandpa’s Beech Hills farm; we picked every kind of berry imaginable with Grandma, or perhaps more accurately…..we ate while Grandma picked; we waited together in anticipation for the surprise visits of our wild and wonderfully exotic Uncle Doyle and then fought for his attention;  we rolled on the grassy knoll at the farm and then complained about our chigger bites; we chided each other relentlessly about who was a better basketball team….the Alices or the Hatchets; we antagonized our mothers as we jumped in piles of leaves on our annual fall trips; we argued about dumb things just like brothers and sisters;  we gave our Grandpa wild hair-dos and then laughed at how funny he looked; we played post office with Grandma’s secretary desk; we listened for endless hours to the tall tales of the Wyant boys and the shenanigans that probably gave our Grandmother her beautiful silvery grey hair.  My sister and I had two brothers years before our little brother Andy was born – we were the four Musketeers.  Our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles were all young and strong and healthy and forward looking.  There was an energy when they all  came together that made you want to grow up – to be just like them.  And the laughter…….it was so infectious that I can still hear it if I shut the world out for a few seconds.
Melinda, Denise, Brent and Greg at Ruth & Nelle's

In addition to the fact that losing my precious cousin was a shock that none of us were expecting,  I think it seems especially hard because it brings the loss of his brother, our grandparents, and two of our cherished uncles right up to the surface again – it feels like more than the loss of one person . . .it’s  the vision of this precious family I was born into changing once again and slipping a little further away from my grasp.  It reminds me once again of the importance of shared family memories.  These are the kind of memories that draw you together and bind you in a way that nothing else does.  The older you get, the fewer people there are who have known you all of your life and the fewer people there are that you can visit your childhood with.   Shared memories not only bring smiles to faces but they also add a fragrance to life – kind of like watching a flower bloom  while the aroma swirls around you on a soft breeze.

After my cousin’s graveside service, my husband and I drove a little further down into the Beech Hills to find the lane of my grandparent’s farm.  I haven’t been there for years and we took one wrong turn but I was amazed at the strength of my memory of those country roads even though things have changed.  I took some pictures and brought them back for my dad to confirm that we were in the right place.  Sure enough, he saw one picture and said, “Oh yeah, that’s where Doyle stripped down bare naked one winter when he realized that he still had his long johns on.”  He finished the story with a big smile, the hint of a tear and one of those big boisterous laughs that I remember listening to as a child.  All of that came back seventy years later from the picture of a mass of greenery……..I watched my father looking at that picture and I knew he had jumped inside it. He was a child again, laughing and rollicking with his brothers.

The scene of the stripping of the long-johns.

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. 
~Tom Stoppard

I am so sad that I have one less person to share an incredible childhood with – my sister and I are now the keepers of the Divine Secrets of the four Wyant Musketeers…..but I’m also thankful for the realization that my remaining cousins and I are the proprietors of what began down in the hills and valleys of the Beech Hills and Monroe City.  What will keep all of the little Wyant descendants warm when they are adults?  I'm in awe of the cycle of childhood and families......and how they really can't be extinguished.

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood,
all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof,
with the right to play among them freely, 
according to the custom of children, 
warning them at the same time against the thistles.
And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks
and the golden sands beneath the water thereof,
with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters,
and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters,
and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees. 
And I leave the children the long, long days to be merry in a thousand ways,
and the Night, and the trail of the Milky Way to wonder at;
but subject, nevertheless, to the rights hereinafter given to lovers;
and I give to each child the right to choose a star to be his,
and I direct the father shall tell him the name of it,
 in order that the child shall always remember the name of that star 
after he has learned and forgotten astronomy.
~Williston Fish, "A Last Will," 1898

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