I saw a funeral van parked in front of a Los Angeles house today, as two men carried an empty stretcher inside. “That old lady must have died,” my son said, as we drove past. I thought about my mom being carried out this time last year and my father’s mother, Lottie, before that.
I never knew Lottie as a young woman. To me, she was always the white-haired, square-figured woman with wire rimmed glasses and a kind smile, living on the top floor of my uncle’s farmhouse. Lottie gave birth to three amazing men, all of whom rose to the top of their professions like cream. Still, I knew nothing of her young life, not a single thing. I saw no photos of the lovely woman she must have been, the young wife or the delighted mother – not a single image.
Lottie kept our photos on the kitchen table, laid flat, under thick glass. Every time she wiped crumbs from her morning, noon or evening meal she spoke to the photos like they were real people.
To my oldest sister, the conversation went something like this. “Hey, sunshine, we got a little snow here yesterday. One of the cows came up lame so we called the vet, but Johnson Hollow road iced over. Glenn got the tractor stuck near the pond trying to clear a path and had one heck of a time getting it out. His gloves were froze solid by the time he hit the house and he was cussin’ up a storm How are things in Philadelphia? Are they good? Ya got a nice clean face now. Can you feel that, me scrubbin’ up your face today?”
To my brother, Doug: “Had a new bi-plane delivered to the airport this morning. The fella who bought it has more money than brains. Wants your dad to teach him to fly, but that fella won’t last. Your dad tested him out, dipped down, then spun a few times over Schweitzer’s field. The man lost his lunch right off the bat. I know you’re clear over there in France with that little bride of yours but we’re thinking of ya over here. I just wiped mashed potatoes off your forehead. Did ya feel that? “
Lottie spent most of her days rocking back and forth in her bedroom chair, watching life from her upstairs window, the glass old and wavy. She watched seasons change, cars motor by and the birth and death of each annual harvest.
After she reached one hundred, she asked me to pray for the end of her life. I put my twenty year old hand over her weathered and gnarled one and agreed. But I lied, because I could not imagine life without my grandma Lottie. I wanted her to keep rocking in that tired old chair for decades to come. But two years later, when I’d become just another photo under glass, a funeral van pulled up to the farmhouse in the same way and she was gone.