Michael and I were talking the other day about what we wanted to happen to us when we pass to the other side of the curtain. He wants a huge party in New Orleans full of good food and drink, and he wants us to have a blast. I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown somewhere I love. Right now I’m thinking it’s this little pool upstream from the Blanchard Springs Recreation Area in Sylamore Creek. It’s one of those places where Ashok and I hiked when we camped up there a few years back. When I walked up on it, it literally took my breath away. I sat for awhile breathing it all in, and then knew that I had to be in it. I stripped down and jumped in the cool water and swam around until I’d had my fill. A little further down the trail was a monument to a fallen firefighter who also loved that place. His friends and family honored him by placing a memorial close to his favorite spot.
Tonight, I went for a run around my old neighborhood. I drove out to Watson to get some lilies from my friend Vicki. Vicki was adamant that I not blow off my run, and after discussing options with her, we decided the best route was the very same route I ran as a girl of 19 when I first slipped on a pair of running shoes. I parked over by the old Junior High School and ran around the football field circling through my childhood subdivision. They’ve now closed the old high school and built a fabulous new one down the highway, so this one sits empty, I believe. The tennis courts where I played in the hot August sun were in disrepair as they always seemed to be. It looked like they swapped the home side of the football stadium to the the other side of the stadium at some point. I couldn’t even find the old junior high building. It must have been torn down or seriously re-modeled.
A man with a little girl stood at the front door of my old house. He was smoking a cigarette as the girl played at a patio table. I waved and told him that I grew up in that house. “That’s cool,” he said. After I passed, I wanted to turn around and say, “You know, my parents built that house. Does that front bedroom still have burnt orange shag carpet?” I wanted to tell him that the house was very modern when it was built. It may look plain now, but it was designed to be a Spanish-style house, and I could explain that the arches in the foyer were a remnant of those original plans. I could tell him how the original plans had a plate-glass window overlooking the back patio, but when my friend Denise rode through one on her bike, Daddy was too afraid to install one. He might find it interesting that my sister got married there on the back patio. It was so hot we were sweating buckets and could only stay outside long enough for the ceremony. This, I might add, isn’t just some ordinary house. It was in that front bedroom where I learned to paint my nails and listened to A Star is Born about 50 jillion times. And, the front porch where he was smoking that cigarette was our favorite family portrait spot. That wasn’t an average front porch. We held a marriage ceremony for our cats Omar and Bonnie on that porch. The marriage failed almost immediately in a tangle of fur and claws, but it was a sacred place. I wanted to tell him these things, but I knew he really didn’t care.
When I’m running, I focus a lot on the ground – watching where I’m stepping. The pavement looked very much the same as it did in my younger running years. It was uneven, broken up in spots in that familiar gravel and blacktop Louisiana country lane fashion. There is a spot that I remembered on the side of the road in front of Craig’s old house where I had to run on the grass when gravel trucks would whiz by. I remembered the way the grass looked, and it had not changed. It was still flat. I don’t know why I remembered that spot so vividly but I did. I ran on it even though there was no traffic just to get the feel of it again. So little else looked the same. The Allen’s house which seemed like a mansion back then looked like a regular-sized home. Homes were built all over the swampland that used to line that road. I wondered if they had problems with water. Toward the end of the run, though, I started to change my perspective. Even though my eyes saw something new, my heart saw everything the same as it was 30 odd years ago. For all of those years that I was away, it all stayed the same in my memories. I didn’t see the gradual changes. I didn’t shop at the new storefronts. In my mind nothing had changed. For 30 years, the street … the school … the football field … the people … never changed. .
As soon as I accepted that things had not changed at all, I began to see it clearly. I saw the aluminum building that held our candy machines where we hung out at recess. I could even feel the lever when I pulled it to get the lemon drops I loved. The softball field where we practiced at the end of the Junior High building was there waiting for me to field the ball. Even the old Junior High Building was there with Mrs. White standing on duty for recess while we played kickball on the side of the building. The little kids marched down the sidewalk toward the lunchroom all in a straight line. The gym reverberated with cheers for our basketball team dressed in blue and gold. I could even hear Susan and Cynthia and Brenda cheering 2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate? Sure, the outward appearances of everything had changed until it was almost unrecognizable, but the spirit of the place lived on.
On the way out, I stopped at my Grandparents’ grave site. I was a little shocked at the way I felt walking through the chain-link fence at the Methodist Church. I never visited graveyards as a kid, so I had no memory of this. The names bold and large on the graves were those of the families I knew as a child. Chavers… Ott…. Easterly …. O’Neal …. Allen …. I knew them all. It was overwhelming there were so many that I recognized. As I wandered through, I realized that I not only knew the family names, but I knew those people. My aunts and uncles, my friends’ parents and even some of my friends were laid to rest in the small country cemetery. My family’s plots were towards the back, and I remembered being there for PawPaw’s funeral. There were many more graves now. The family name Graves seemed ironic in a cemetery. One of my cousins remarked recently that he just remembered all of us kids playing together out in the pasture, and it seemed like there were hundreds of us. We were a large family. MawMaw had something like 10 brothers and sisters, and they all had families. Most of us lived in that small community. We were neighbors and playmates. I guess I knew many of them were gone over the years, but to see it so visually for the first time was emotional.
When I was leaving, I distinctly heard a voice saying, “We are not here.” I know that I feel PawPaw around me all the time. I have a strong belief that we interact with each other on a regular basis through the veil. So, I know they are not there. Like the place of my upbringing that lives on in my heart unchanged, these people live on in the hearts of their loved ones. I’ve heard that there are multiple dimensions, and we all live amongst each other totally unaware of the other dimensions. I don’t know if this is literally true, but I can see that it is true when I think of how I felt today. There was a knowing in me that what was then is just as real today as it ever was. Pawpaw walks with me hand in hand and brings his own reality of what Watson looked like when he was young. I now understand the stories he told us when we were kids. Just like the man on my front porch, I didn’t really care much. I was too worried about living my young life. But, for him, they weren’t stories … they were real … they were his life.
At first I felt my fear of death surge in my chest. I thought of how as a kid death seems so far away that you don’t even think about it. In midlife, it gets more real. Today, I felt some hope that death is just an entryway to another state of being. That firefighter gets to live forever by Sylamore Creek. Michael will get to party his way through heaven with everybody he loves. I may go join the firefighter and skinny dip through eternity in that beautiful pool. I imagine PawPaw is somewhere enjoying his azaleas in his favorite time of year. I’m not exactly sure what lies on the other side, but I think our perspective will be broader, and our hearts will be much larger. I’m not in a real big hurry to get there, but if it’s like I think it might be, it will be fun to see everybody again. For now, I hope PawPaw will help me with these lilies. I need all the help I can get.