This post was originally composed last spring, when my grandmother passed away. I’ve thought more since then about place, and about the women in my family and what I share with them. Parts of these thoughts will probably end up here eventually, because they’re something I’d like to write more about. These are things that have often preoccupied me, but I believe this is the first time I tried writing about them.
The post has been sitting in my drafts folder for quite some time, and the only reason I can imagine for this is because I didn’t know what word came after “part of this” … so I have put a period there, and now I give it to you.
I have been absent this week, six hours away from Pittsburgh and immersed in my other life: the life in Philadelphia.
More accurately, it is my life in Doylestown, because although my grandparents (both sets) lived about an hour away from the city and I visited them several times a year growing up, I’ve only been to Philadelphia proper twice that I remember.
It is another life of mine, that part of Pennsylvania, with the stone houses and the red roads. It was a secret that my friends in Michigan couldn’t see, and that I couldn’t describe to them, and so a part of me that I knew couldn’t be known by many. And so, even though I’d lived in Michigan since age 2, I, like my parents, knew what it was like to live somewhere other than home, to feel like you belonged somewhere else.
That home is disintegrating, falling to pieces bit by bit. My grandmother passed away a week ago today, meaning that now an entire generation is gone. (“It’s down to our parents now,” I said to my cousin, and it was a sobering thought.) The house I spent so much time in–the living room with Pop-pop’s chair, the red maple we used to climb out front, the 11 acres of woods out back, the pipeline next door, the split driveway that my grandparents shared with Great-grandma Ivy–these things are gone, belong to strangers now, even though as I drove past them yesterday they looked the same.
But the roads still hold something. Those red, narrow country roads that can’t really handle the congestion that excessive development and suburbanization has brought. The feeling that I associated with them–something tangible in my chest, something different than anywhere else–it’s still there.
And I am sitting on the couch with a stack of essays next to me which I haven’t touched since Monday, seriously behind on my work; but I am still lost in stories: my stories, Grandma’s stories, my mother’s stories, Great-grandma’s stories. Right now they pull me back to the past, and I can get nothing done. They tell me that grieving is never really over.
But they also push me into the future, teach me that my stories, too, are a part of this.
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