Do not go where the path may lead, go instead
where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
While contemplating those words, I thought of an incident in my own life that brings its true meaning home for me.
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“Ride the merry-go-round with us, Grandma!”
“Can we please go see the baby animals? Can we pet them?”
It was late summer and the county fair was in full swing. The warm air vibrated with all the bustling activity. The sing-song beat of the midway. Spinning amusement rides bringing squeals of delight. The sharp scent of sausages sizzling along-side peppers and onions mingled with the luscious aroma of just spun cotton candy.
My brother and I, with spouses and two children each, had joined our parents for the annual excursion. As usual, my mother led the way to all the fun with eager grandchildren trailing close behind.
“Come on, Grandma! Hurry!”
“Look! There’s the fun house!”
Watching them—anxiously awaiting an upcoming turn on the kiddy coaster, tentatively petting the velvety soft nose of a gentle lamb or sharing some sweet cotton candy—it was hard to decide who was having more fun.
From day one, my mother had totally embraced her position as Grandma. Though the role came at her fast, with four grandchildren born in quick succession, she promptly became a vibrant and important part of their lives.
Each day spent with Grandma was an adventure, and her grandchildren would grab every chance that came their way to do just that. It didn’t matter where these journeys took them. The zoo to see the animals then ride a real live pony. Or to a local amusement park to check out the kid sized ferris wheel. Or even to a neighborhood playground to laugh on the teeter totter or climb the monkey bars. All were part of the joy of precious time spent with Grandma. In summer, she would fix picnic lunches for them to share on her backyard patio. Even a simple trip to the grocery store or beauty shop became memorable when Grandma was involved.
But, life inevitably changes. When two more grandchildren came along, some years later, things in all of our lives were very different. Time always takes its toll and, by then, breast cancer had taken its own cruel toll on Grandma’s energy and the very quality of her life.
Carrie was my mother’s last grandchild, born more than a decade after the first. I sometimes wondered if there would be enough room for her in Grandma’s heart. It broke my own heart that my daughter had missed out on so much of her Grandmother’s life. She couldn’t possibly have the same closeness, the same connection with Grandma that the older grandchildren had enjoyed. Sadly, I resigned myself to this truth. Still, I mourned the loss of what could never be.
Then, during a simple conversation, I learned how wrong my thinking was and had a weight lifted off my heart in the process.
Shortly after that wonderful mother and grandmother passed away; I decided to give one of her two prized cameo necklaces to my niece—the oldest granddaughter, the other to my oldest daughter. First, though, I wanted to check with Carrie, to make sure that she wouldn’t feel slighted or left out.
“Why would I care?” Her reply was short, to the point. “If I don’t even know what it is.”
Her answer saddened me and a variety of quick responses came to my mind. Because you should care about the things that belonged to your grandmother. If remembering her is murky for you, please, at least try to honor her memory. You just need to care.
“Do you remember your Grandma?” I managed the casual question instead, then prepared myself for her answer.
“I remember she was my favorite grandparent.” Another short reply. Matter of fact.
This response puzzled me, too. Her other grandparents were still alive and she saw them often. “Favorite?”
“She played with me. When no other adults did.”
“Played with you?”
That made no sense. The two of them ‘playing’ together was something I had never witnessed. My mother was so sick, weakened by medical treatments, for much of Carrie’s life. She hadn’t been able to take her youngest grandchild to the places she had taken the others. Day long trips to the zoo or even short walks to the playground were out of the question. Grandma rarely got outside at all anymore. She would even get winded simply making her way around the house.
Still, I had to know. “Played with you how?”
“She’d eat the block pies I made for her.” The answer came with all the certainty her limited memory provided. “I would make pretend cakes and pies out of my building blocks. And Grandma would pretend to eat them.” As memories swirled, she smiled. “She always said they were delicious.”
And, with those words from someone so young, I suddenly came to realize something very special.
Happy memories aren’t necessarily made up of fun filled trips and activities. They can just as easily arise from the most basic interactions of everyday lives, be created by simple, one on one, relationships. Not just elaborate events.
While I had concentrated on what could never be, Carrie and her Grandma had concentrated on what could. They had found a special place where they were able to come together. Even with the limitations that life had imposed, they had connected on a level that was uniquely their own.
In the process, they had created a memory. A precious and personal memory of a grandmother that now lived within the granddaughter. The granddaughter who had been born in the waning years of her grandmother’s life. One I worried would be left out, and the other I feared would be forgotten.
As it turned out, the granddaughter was remembered and cherished by a grandmother she remembered and cherished in return.
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