One of the things I wanted to do over this short span of days off was to take a road trip.
I love road trips. The sights, the sense of adventure, the singleness of purpose–the only mission is to move further down the road–are most compelling. When I was 22, I moved back to New Hampshire from Arizona, and made that move by car. Almost exactly three days from Phoenix to Peterborough, including some twenty hours of straight non-stop driving from Ohio to New Hampshire. Roadside Truckstop picked up a lot of fresh inspiration in that ride. So too did its author.
So yeah. Love road trips.
I decided what I wanted to do was to go back to Yuma again to see Grandma Duffy’s grave. And Grandpa and my uncle Timmy since they’re all together there. The last time I was there was the funeral, and even then I remembered earlier trips there, like when Grandma and Grandpa would stop in to see Timmy’s grave after church. I think they did that every Sunday, but I do recall going there to see the grave when I was, maybe, eight or nine.
I got an early start, leaving at five in the morning. Dark-fifteen or so. A Red Bull started the morning–ugh…
The sky was starting to light when I had breakfast around Casa Grande and was mainly in my mirrors as I went west on Interstate 8. The expanses around me were flat, except for the occasional mountain or large hill jutting out of the ground here and there. The cowshit smell of agriculture was everywhere for the first part of the I-8 leg. Eventually, you come to the mountain ranges through which I-8 was cut which then leads to Yuma and California in quick succession.
Yuma. Land of my birth literally perchance. Dad was there courtesy of the Military-Industrial Complex (Yuma has a large Marine base), and, arguably, so was Mom, since Grandpa was a State Farm agent with a flourishing business with the Marines, among other things. It’s where everybody happened to be, and where the hospital was where I made my entrance. And Mom and Dad split from there after Dad left the service.
So, though I was born there I have almost no attachment whatsoever to that dull, dreary place. And it’s almost midwestern in its sheer dullness. Duller than Peterborough, whose only saving grace was having old buildings. Yuma, to me as a child, was where Grandma and Grandpa Duffy lived. And, as it’s worked out, it’s where they will always be.
So I went there today. Since I have a new, reliable car, it was feasible. I went to the cemetery, found them side-by-side with Timmy beside (at his parents’ right of course), and sat with them for a bit.
I’ve said this previously, and it bears repeating. I was very lucky to have a living, vital grandparent in my life well into my forties. I have fresh memories of the living Georgianna Duffy where I have old memories of Robert Duffy (Tall. Really funny. Liked to take walks out behind the house in the morning. Let me come with him once.). Most of my cousins never met Robert Duffy, though they’d’ve loved him.
As far as the Grows, I have fewer memories of Grandpa (Pall Malls. “How ’bout that!” Open casket, terrible jacket, wrong shade of lipstick.) and even less of Grandma (Dorals. Used to do taxi dispatching out of the kitchen at home, complete with the table microphone. Hated my mom.).
Back to the gravesite. There was a small depression that signaled where Grandma was, so I sat next to where her head would be. And, talked. And listened.
Who did the atheist talk to, you ask?
Good question asshole. To myself of course. And to the whispering wind. What else?
A fully atheistic worldview is new in general. And new to me specifically. It’s incomplete as far as handling the death of loved ones compared to a theistic view–which is all about handling death. But I needed to come sit with them.
All I have left of my time with these people are old photographs and aging memories. I can bring Grandma’s voice to mind quite clearly in my head. Not just as she was when I last saw her–bedridden and on morphine–but earlier on, when we’d play Rummikub (“Are ya done yet?! Is it my turn?!”), and even further back, when she’d make sugar cookies, and tell us to not play around in the living room–vinyl-wrapped furniture and white carpets.
I last saw Grandpa maybe 35 years ago, and heard his voice on the phone a few times later on. I see him as the child did–tall, with kind eyes. Oatmeal and half a grapefruit with Tang for breakfast. He’d wiggle his ears while he ate, and Katy and I would laugh. He’d look at us and say to Grandma, “Mother, these kids are saying I wiggle my ears!” And then there was the walk I took with him. I didn’t want to walk so much as I wanted to be with my grandfather. Not much talking as I remember.
Timmy I can picture somewhat. His voice though, I am not sure. He was a good looking boy. Just turned twenty when he was killed in 1975. Long dark hair, heartbreaker face. I was in kindergarten when I last saw him.
Memories. Dim. Dimmer. Episodic. The scraps I have of these people I loved. I needed to sit with them.
I traveled to that place to conjure these people once more in the only realm left: My mind. I do this anywhere else and these are just more mind-renderings. Imaginary friends. Constructs of who these people were to me.
Doing it there, in that silent place where the markers are all flush with the ground to make mowing easier, and the wind blows flowers and offerings about like the detritus it is, it felt more…appropriate maybe? This is where the last physical bits of them are.
And I wanted to sit with them again, I guess. Even if I was the only one sitting there.
So I did for a few minutes. Four-plus hours there, four-plus hours back–and I am so tired I cannot sleep.
I miss you.