My father passed away suddenly, almost seven years ago, not long after his forty-seventh birthday, due to complications from an aggressive form of leukemia. I miss him every day, but one of the things I wish I’d had time to do was hear more of his stories. Though on paper his life looks fairly conventional–grew up in south Boston, joined the Navy and moved to Virginia, met my mother, finished his service and moved north to my Mom’s hometown, where I grew up–I know he probably had dozens of tales I never heard.
That’s why I read my friend Kate’s little essay about the stories she heard from her grandmother near the end of her grandmother’s life, with interest, affection, and a little sadness. It’s a lovely piece worth reading, especially having just passed Memorial Day.
Stories—my grandmother’s, mine, yours—aren’t linear. They come in different shapes and sizes, and they don’t usually move in straight lines. Sometimes life is orderly, but most of the time, it shoots out in a lot of different directions at once and you have to just go with it. Stories don’t always fit on a page or in a room or whatever else kind of box we want to put them in. Some begin and end in the same sentence, and others unfold over dinner parties, weeks, or lifetimes.
In the end, it wasn’t the birthdays or the wedding days or the tearful goodbyes that defined my grandmother’s life. It was the pedicures and the birds and the bonfires. Her storytelling, which seemed at the time like repetitive and erratic behavior, was really a beautiful human instinct: My grandmother was discovering what it means to be here.