The new year supposedly takes its tone from the activity it finds you engaged in when it arrives. Regrettably, I wasn't kissing anyone. Fortunately, I was up to my elbows in bread dough and thinking about my Grandmother Ervine. Kissing anyone might have distracted me from my dread purpose... persuading recalcitrant honey/olive oil bread that it wanted to roll out nicely so that I could turn it into peasant loaves. Which was approximately what I was doing the year before.*
It's been a strange year. Stranger than I could ask, or even imagine. Some of the strangeness is so huge that I can't even look at it. Like mountains, many of the changes in my life are too big to take in when I'm in the midst of them.** I'm a person who roots. I was rooted in Alaska, and then I decided for various reasons that I needed to leave, even though I spent my four years of college horrendously homesick.
I do not think of myself as a brave person. I have been known to say in tones of outraged frustration, that I am not only not a brave person, but that I further do not appreciate being placed in situations where I have to pretend to be one. I'm beginning to think that practiced pretense after thirty years is becoming fact.
This year my Grandmother Ervine died. I cannot tell you what a fine woman she was -- for now, the memory is too tender. The readers that I visualize when I'm writing this -- close friends and my family -- either knew her or have heard the stories.*** She was a brave woman, and a kind one. I try to be both, but I'm not as good at it as she was. In my defense, she had a substantial head start.
Mom and I had a plan. We would take a week and drive from Anchorage to Seattle, with some of my furniture and all of the stuff that makes civilized life so comfortable.**** It would be fun. It would be bonding. Forgetting the fact that neither of us is good at sitting still, and I hate driving, with a particular emphasis on hating driving in unfamiliar places --I was looking forward to it. We were going to leave on the sixteenth of August. Grandmother died on the sixth. Instead of the leisurely trip I'd been looking forward to, we threw the bare basics in Rubbermaid tubs, and got on a plane three days later.
Four days after that, I was kneeling on the grass in the Anacortes' cemetery on a blindingly sunny day, placing her ashes in a hole in the ground. The box of ashes weighed almost nothing. The only thing that made it at all bearable was that I was in shock. I realize that ninety-seven is a reasonable age at which to die, and that Grandmother had been looking forward to getting clear of this mortal coil for years. I knew it then too. It had just never actually seemed probable that she would die. (The sun will go out one day too, but I don't really believe in that either.) Shock in me manifests in a sort of desperate matter of factness: She's dead. I put her in the ground. The grass is green. The dirt is brown. It's a sunny day. She's dead. Most of us are wearing shorts. I'm saying the Lord's Prayer now. I am not going to start crying. She's dead. If I start crying, I'll never stop. And the power and the glory forever. Amen. She's dead. Like that over and over again, until I could believe this impossible thing. I didn't cry, and I suspect I might have been insufferable.
I cried later. For a lot of the fall I went around being very careful because almost anything would set me off. Songs in church. Songs not in church. Books. Museums. Particularly pretty days in Volunteer park. Conversations with aunts about nothing to do with my grandmother. Only two things made it bearable. One, I live by myself, so that if I'm going to fall apart every six minutes, I can do it in private. Two, I could go to either relatives or friends so close that they may as well be relatives for the weekend. I didn't do this as much as I expected, but I could and having the option made an enormous difference.
Life finds you out. One day I looked up and realized that the quarter was nearly over, and that I had friends I was looking forward to seeing that night. It was a good feeling the first bit of normal since that August evening when Uncle Jim called to tell us Grandmother was gone.
Good year. Hard year. And I'll probably spend next New Year's Eve up to my elbows in bread dough. It seems to be a harbinger of interesting things.
*This makes me wonder if the superstition holds true, and the omen of baking bread means a year of upheaval, blessing, and terror in equal measure. Not unlike what bread dough goes through when I'm thumping it around while kneading.
**However, overwrought metaphors are not one of the things that has changed in my life.
***Judging from the stats that google gives me, they are aren't the only ones, but they are the ones I know about. Maybe sometime I will tell stories about my grandmother for those people who never got to meet her.
**** Books. Lots and lots of books.