95 North to I-10 West. 75 North straight into Perry. Exit 136 and I'm off the Interstate and headed down 341 to Roberta, to Granny's house. Past rows and rows of peach trees, pecan trees and Georgia red clay and into Fort Valley. Past the Dairy Queen where I always remember going to one time but not how old I was or who I was with. I had gotten a green slushy type drink and the worst case of brain freeze I can ever remember getting, but it didn't stop me from finishing my treat. ;) Over the train tracks, past Blue Bird and past more rows and rows of majestic looking pecan trees and shorter, squattier rows of peach trees....and of course, "red dirt" as Jacob likes to say just to hear me correct him. "It's not dirt......it's Georgia red clay", I tell him and then I see his grin and pinch him for setting me up.
I reach Roberta and turn onto her street. My chest begins to tighten and the knots in my stomach let me know that they haven't gone away despite the destractions of my kids teasing me or picking on each other. Pulling up into the drive, I pull in , past the huge Magnolia and the brick house that my PawPaw built over 50 years ago comes into full view. I push down the panicky feeling that threatens to engulf me, blink back the tears that threaten to appear as the thought of her not being inside freezes momentarily in my mind.
I want her to be inside, waiting for us in her recliner, waiting for a hug and a kiss. I want to hear her say my name when she sees me....the way she says it, with that Southern accent and the inflection in her voice that makes it sound only the way she can.
The way she could.
I park beside my mama's car and before we're all out, she's coming out, meeting us. We walk inside, past my Granny's car that I've ridden in countless times and I can't help looking inside and seeing us all in there ~ Granny, Mama & I.....on one of our trips into Macon for shopping and eating....and I stop the memory for going any further. It hurts and I have to push it away for now.
We get our things settled and go over the viewing and ceremony info......and my head hurts, my eyes hurt. The smell of the house, walking through the rooms, the fragments of memories that come randomly....... I quickly distract myself to make them stop.....I'm tired and I can't go there now. I took 3 Tylenol PM's last night to try to get more sleep and they didn't work very well. Yawn.
My sister calls. I haven't seen or heard her voice in 12 years. She's coming. She's afraid there will be a scene, she's afraid to see my mama face to face. She left at 18 and never came back to see my Granny and says she's been crying all day. She's not the only one afraid that there will be a scene.....I don't think there will be, but one can never be sure.....
We have a couple of visitors, bringing food and condolences. Including Mandy. Mandy was one of my Granny's sitters, one of the ladies that would come take care of her.....she had sitters round the clock to help her, to grant her wish of not entering a nursing home, of staying in this house that my PawPaw built for her until her last days. Mandy brought a full-course southern meal for our family, cooking up a storm this morning not knowing we were coming. "I just love to cook," she says in her loud voice, "and when I heard you was comin', I knew right what to do with it". She gets to work, doing dishes and sweeping, cleaning and organizing, without anyone asking her to and in spite of my mama's telling her not to, to sit down and relax.
Mandy was with Granny on her last night in the house. She starts moving furniture back into place, furniture that had been moved to make the room more functional for Granny. She clears off little tables that held medication and cups, tissues, the Pond's Cold Cream that she used to cleanse her face,....and asks if it's ok to put the nightstands back in bedrooms where they belonged. My mama keeps saying things like, "Might as well, no one lives here any more. They're no longer needed in here", and I want her to stop.
Mandy finally sits down and her loud voice never stops......she says she wished we had all come for Thanksgiving (I wanted to come on Thanksgiving.....it wasn't my decision not to), how good it was for us all to be here now. She talks about Granny, the things she would do, the things she would say.....and I can hear Granny's voice saying them in my mind. She tells us what she used to say about us, what she used to say about me, that she sure loved Jill.
I wish she was here. And I take a deeper breath and blink back the tears.
Mandy says how much she loved it when my mom and Uncle Don were here with the sitters, how she loved to just sit and listen to the chatter. My visits over the past several years been sporadic and I start to wonder if Granny knew why. I was told not to come. That the kids would make too much noise and upset her. I offered to come, just me & Mama, but was told "No", she doesn't want anyone to come. "She's moody and we never know what her mood will be". But as I listen to Mandy talk, I start to get a sick feeling in my stomach and I start to doubt.
My kids are hungry and I get up to fix their plates full of Mandy's meal. Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, squash casserole, collard greens and corn bread. I wash my hands off at the kitchen sink and look out the window at the back yard and take in the view: the basketball hoop she had put up for us, the old swingset, the old lawn furniture, past the apple tree and the fence to the land beyond....and I abruptly stop the onslaught of memories hitting so fast that they're all running together. The food is good and I put a little on a plate for myself even though I don't want to eat.......I don't want her to think I don't appreciate it.
I sit with my kids while they eat and rave over her cooking, and I can't stop thinking and wishing that I had come even though I was told not to. Mandy starts looking in the refrigerator and freezer for things that might need to be thrown out, always busy, always talking. She reaches in the freezer and starts taking out little cups with small amounts of ice cream in them. "She loved her ice cream", she says with a boisterous laugh, and my mom smiles and says, "She sure did....Butter Pecan". She didn't eat much in the last months, always wanted it in a cup, and rarely finished it. Taking out a red bowl, Mandy looks at us and shows us the remains. "This is from her last night here......look, you can see where the part she ate was, but she couldn't finish it".
I force the food in my mouth down and can't eat another bite. I look down and blink the tears away as Mandy scrapes the bowl of frozen cream into the trash can, and washes it clean.
I'm so tired. My eyes hurt and my head hurts, but my brain won't stop thinking. I feel like I'm in a daze when I'm not battling the sadness and grief, the tears and the emotions. I prefer the dazed feeling. I can't stop feeling guilty. Mama told me not to come all the times I wanted to. Told me I couldn't. I think about when I left a few weeks ago, that I didn't really want to leave yet. I leaned over her and hugged her, not too tighly for she was frail, and kissed her forehead. "I love you, Granny", I said, and her fragile voice responded, "I love you".....more fragile than in the past, but still said in the same way as only she could......those little inflections and emphasis on the syllables.
I add the guilt to the other emotions coursing through me and wish I knew that she knew how much I really did want to come and how much she meant to me. That I didn't just get wrapped up in my own life and stop visiting as often because I was too busy. That I really wanted to come.
I wish I knew for sure.