Bare with me...these are the writings of an insomniac. From around 1am this morning.
I remember the first funeral I attended - a cousin, Van Potts, of my granddaddy's generation. It was an open-casket service at Maplesville Baptist Church and while I can't remember exactly how old I was, I couldn't have been more than eight or nine. I went with my daddy - we met up with other family; I remember filing down the aisle with my cousins Hannah and Mary Margaret - Mary Margaret would have been around five - to the front and peering into the casket. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I'd known about Van. His widow, Eloise, would become closer to and later send me a high school graduation present. Somehow, attending this funeral sealed a pact between Daddy and I - we were to be the two representatives from our family at a lot of funerals, joined by Mama and my brother around half of the time.
In the sixth grade, my cousin Joe died. He was around the same age as my dad (they were first cousins) and had kids my age. Joe and his family were a strong, constant presence for us when my family moved to Prattville and gone through some pretty significant financial troubles. Joe contracted a very aggressive form of cancer - he was diagnosed and within two months he was gone. I remember my dad going with Tom, Joe's brother, and my Uncle Joe to the hospital multiple times a week. My mom transferred all her vacation days to Joe's wife, humorously also named Jo (they both worked for the State at the time). I remember realizing that while I'd always loved every single member of my family, and felt connected to them, this was a time when I was seeing a pure, beautiful realization of family - the word almost took a verb-like meaning. It was stunning, uncharacteristically invigorating, immobilizing. Looking back, this was probably when I really began romanticizing my family - family in the multi-line, multi-generational sense - in a way that would sometimes hurt my feelings in the future.
My Ma-ee passed away when I was eighteen. She was a woman way ahead of her time. My grandmother was the first female graduate with a degree in accounting from the University of Alabama in a time when women couldn't even work as bank tellers. She ran my grandparents' hardware store, served on the Water Works Board, began the county library and book-mobile. She came to serve on the Board of Directors for our bank and continued to impact the city in other areas. My dad said she ran the household - overseeing every detail and always going for function and practicality (which Daddy definitely inherited). Ma-ee was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when I was six, began showing severe signs by the time I was 10 and by the time I was 13 she was unable to communicate. I thrived on the stories my parents, brother, grandfather would tell of her. I was the first female born on that side of the family in something like 40 years and I loved hearing about my own version of a Horatio Alger hero. She passed away on December 18, 2000 - I had to ask for exemptions for all of my first semester of college exams. I was stunned by her death, ashamed of myself for thinking of her like a fixture and felt guilty for not spending enough time by her side at Thanksgiving a few weeks prior. It would take me almost a year to fully mourn her loss. When I came back to school after those Christmas holidays, I found myself driven out of fear of disappointing her. Disappointing my Ma-ee and her memory - not making use of my knowledge or applying myself practically - is still my number one fear, I think.
And now here we are. It's been seven years and one month. Tomorrow I'll load my car and drive to Maplesville for my grandfather's funeral. He passed away at 3:15 this morning - yesterday morning, I guess, as it's past midnight when I'm sitting on my bed writing this. I don't know how to feel. I have cried, worried (and over the petty things, like what will we do for Thanksgiving now? Will we all still be so close? I realize that I'm mourning a family togetherness that will likely never be lost, but worried and can't shake it. Who's the glue? WHO'S THE GLUE?), reflected. But still...he was hurting. Now he isn't. I feel reconciled with him - with our communication right up through the last time I saw him at Christmas (we he once again joked to his sitter that I'd moved to Nashville to dance in a honky-tonk). I love how I was able to learn first-hand about his life - from helping support his family from age 14 after his father died by playing the trumpet in a dance band, to being a fighter pilot in WWII, to coming home with Ma-ee one night to find that my dad and uncles (in an over-the-top game of cowboys and indians) had tied their babysitter to a chair and fixed an (unloaded) deer rifle on her (not kidding!), to being the choir director at Maplesville Baptist even though he wouldn't join because he was Episcopalian. (The funeral will be there, too; it's still the only church in town.)
I'm really going to miss Granddaddy. The way he'd call me, Hannah, and Mary Margaret "girls," but how in his crazy Southern accent it would come out "gulls." The way, every holiday, he'd ask if we preferred the north end of a South-bound turkey or the south end of a North-bound turkey. Singing "Shall We Gather at the Rive" at boat church at the lake. How, when I was little, he'd "threaten" to tie me up by my pigtails and throw me in the sticker bushes. How he LOVED us! I know, though, that he and Ma-ee are together now, both healthy and happy. And that they love my family even more because we love each other.