Never Forgotten

March 28, 2012
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“MOM! Can you come here!?” I wrestled with the polar bear covered pillow and blankets that draped off the sides of my tiny bed as papers went flying every which way. Whoops.

“Yeah, I'm coming." My sister sang lousily next door, and the sound of four too many feet thumped up the stairs. Sadie, she’s such a…dog. “What?” My mom slipped her head between the crack of my door and the trim. Her eyes were very weary and watery. It seemed like this wasn’t convenient for her. I think I interrupted her little “beauty nap”.

“So, how did Grandma die? I can’t ask Dad or Gramp; it’s much too sensitive for them.” I leaned forward in a ready position as she now pushed my door open, and the extra four feet jumped on my bed. Papers were now flying and being crumpled beneath the 110 pound Rottweiler’s paws.

My mom chuckled, but then became dead serious. "It was 1997; they were in Allagash, Maine. Your grandpa walked your grandmother to her tree stand. He made sure she got into it safely and then began walking towards his. On his way there, he had a feeling that something wasn't right, so he began to run back to Nancy. When he got there, she was climbing out of her tree stand. Grandpa asked her what she was doing and she replied, "I'm not feeling good, I have a pain in my ches..."

My mom paused.

"She fell down out of the stand and was dead instantaneously from a heart attack."

I knew a tree stand was an open or enclosed platform that is used by a hunter; it is secured to a tree to elevate and give a better shooting point. They are often very high up the tree, so she had a long drop to fall. Wow.

Not knowing my grandma didn't shock me because it was reality, but hearing the story broke my heart. I suddenly felt my grandpa Phil's pain and I could only imagine how he felt that day, like the world slipped into a dark black shadow that would never disappear. His best friend and love of his life would only be an angel of heaven watching over him. No more memories would be added to the ones he already had, only pictures to show her appearance now. He is scarred for life, being the one who saw her die.

"What did Grandpa do?" I quietly pushed the words from my mouth. I could tell this isn’t what my mom wanted to be talking about.

She gasped in a mouth full of air before she quickly continued. "He began CPR, and yelling at the top of his lungs. A man heard Gramp, but couldn’t find him. Gramp ran out of the woods to where they had parked the truck. He drove fifty miles to the nearest town for help. When he found it, he led them back to where she was. It took them the whole day to remove her body." It was a short and to the point story, but I understood considering this is a sensitive topic. It gave me enough to think about for the time being.

The images running through my mind were unbearable. All I pictured was Grandma’s limp body falling many feet to her death, and Grandpa frantically running to her side. I could only imagine how many tears fell upon his flushed cheeks. There was no one but the wilderness surrounding them, as he held her dead body in his arms when CPR didn’t revive her. I had to face it, because I wanted to gain as much knowledge about her as possible.

My mom swiftly left my room, closing the door behind her. I calmly petted my puppy’s head as I tried to take it in. “Well, there’s a story for you. Huh, baby girl.” I nestled my head into the space between her jaw and shoulder and laid there.

That evening I called my grandfather, desperately.

"Hi, Gramp. How are you?" I waited for his answer on the other end of the phone. "Hey, you want to join us for dinner tonight? I'd like to know a little bit about Grandma..."

"Yeah, let me take out Nova and I'll be up. I have some things I’ll bring." There was no hesitation, and he hung up. Nova is his fourteen year old chocolate lab. She is his only companion since Gram died. He needed a little noise and company around his now dead silent house. The loneliness would eat him alive, since he was used to the opposite.

When Gramp arrived at the house, he set a plastic grocery bag on the table in our kitchen. He reached his rough hands into it, and pulled out a shiny black picture frame that held a black and white photo. It was Grandma when she was eighteen years old. There was a silent gentleness in her eyes. Her calm face and delicate bone structure presented a peaceful outlook on her presence. She had dark brown hair that reached just above her shoulders and curled in perfection around the borders of her face. The light shined on her just so, showing no flaws in her pale look. She had very thin, petite eyebrows that matched the color of her hair. With no makeup on, her long eye lashes and eyes were exceptionally beautiful. In the picture, they were grey, but I could tell she was happy.

Grandpa sat silently breathing next to me. He must have noticed I was admiring her eyes. He pointed to them, putting his finger on each one individually and said, “They were hazel.” Not taking my focus from her picture, he continued to gently whisper, “You see right there?” He placed his wrinkled pointer finger to her lower right side of her bottom lip, “…She had a birth mark. It was weirdly blue, but it was her special beauty mark. When she died…” He was now searching the palm of his hand, and pointing to something which now consumed my attention. He said, “I found this, in a place it had never been, the same little blue circle mark. “ He could tell I was a little puzzled on how that would happen. “It’s true; she must have given it to me because it was never there before she died.” His eyebrows rose as he nodded his head in reassurance.

I scanned over the palm of his hand and gently felt the mark. There was no bump, just a little visual mark below the first dry layers of his tan and freckled skin. I said, “I believe it, Grandpa. Trust me. I believe it.” He smiled and went back to his silenced position. I continued to admire the rest of Gram’s structure.

She had dark lips that allowed every crease to be visible, but in this picture, that birth mark was only a little spec that would need a magnifying glass to enlarge its visibility. On her collared shirt, she wore a gemstone (that I was told was light green in color). It looked like a miniature bow, being about the size of a quarter in length. Her shirt was a rough material and was a button down that revealed no skin below her neck. Around her neck and near her heart lay my grandfather's Navy Flight ring. The picture ended just below her chest.

When my dad came home, he found us in the kitchen. When he stood over us to gaze at her picture, I could see his eyes fill with tears, but I didn’t expect anything less. My dad probably misses her more than anyone. He loved his mom. I could tell by how much he talks to me about her, whereas my grandpa, until recently, closed himself up like a cocoon and never talked about anything. Personally, I think he was trying to avoid even thinking about it.

As I continued to blankly admire her beauty, Grandpa handed me pink papers that were folded in half, but not perfectly creased.

"What's this?" I smiled politely.

"It's the speech that the minister wrote for Nan's funeral. He gave it to me when he was done. Read it..." Grandpa encouraged.

I opened the pink folded papers, and before me were four pages in small, cursive handwriting. It began, "Our scripture today says that there is a time, a season for everything under the sun. A time to love: and love Nancy did, most of us will never have that close together love that was shared by Phil, Nancy, her children, their spouses, and her children's children. Phil and Nancy were never apart, working together, living together, playing together and hunting together. Where some of us need space, there was no need for space with Nancy. She simply lived her life and allowed you to live yours. I'm not saying that she'd not disagree with out, but that she said her piece and moved on. Not holding her anger but once released, she moved on, knowing the importance of her peace with nature and life."

It was like reading a story itself. Many words can put things into place for someone, especially for me. As I read his written thoughts, I was able to get a feel for more about my Grandmother. I smiled feeling a little more at peace with myself.

Next, the minister shared a story with whoever was in the church that day, and with the people who read his piece. He basically told us how one day, Grandma Nancy and my father's brother Mike, dropped off wood to a local inn owned by a flatlander. The flatlander was determined not to be cheated by any Vermonters' because she was a flatlander. After Gram and Mike finished stacking the split wood, the lady had said that Gram cheated her of a cord of wood. Well, Gram and Mike proceeded to remove the wood they had just stacked, back into the truck. Grandma was very stubborn, if it wasn't her way, it wasn't any way. I found that very amusing. Part of me liked the narration from my grandfather in the background.

The speech continued, "...Nancy laughed and we all joked about the Inn...The boys remember growing up with their mother. She grabbed them by the baby hair and the backs of their necks and made them move or sit when they'd been had...Nancy knew how to love, to raise honest hard working children, and she knew how to hunt. As Phil told me her muzzle-loading story, you can hear the pride and the joy of this couple. Standing in the woods at Nancy's stand, a beautiful nine point buck came into range. Phil says, "Look at that. Get your gun up." Nancy says, "Shut up. I'll shoot when I'm ready." Shoot she did and dropped the buck. Then she grabbed Phil by the waist and jumped up and down, swinging him around. Excited and proud, she never let Phil forget that she had the biggest buck with a muzzle-loader. The deer head is being prepared, horns fixed just right. All this a reminder of this triumph in her life..." Gram died doing what she loved to do. Hunting was simply her passion. She was nature's child and had a gift of the woods. I suppose being half Indian contributed to that.

"Phil remembers surviving 110 mile an hour winds on a boat on Lake Ontario, while his 110 pound wife stood in the breeze trying to put a life jacket on him. They were four miles out when a tornado struck and he and Nancy withstood the storm that destroyed many other boats. Side by side in the boat as they had all their lives... Phil tells me that he never had to skid log because that was Nancy's job. Seventy-five pounds of chain over her shoulder and she'd be pushing and pulling. And Phil would go over and start to help and was told, "What do you want?" She hadn't asked for help..." I laughed out loud, as the Minister's words amused me. I could picture this. I looked to my left as Gramp now asked me, “What are you laughing at?” I proceeded to read him that section, and he laughed so loud that I swore my eardrums were going to blow. My goodness! Could you be any louder? I thought to myself. Must be he’s losing part of his hearing ability. I smirked at him.

As I got a paragraph to the end, I began to admire her picture again. I know that my grandma will always be close to my heart and others as well. When the sun shines down, she's smiling. When the rain falls, there's a reason to cry. I continued to read, "When two people are close, as Phil and Nancy, they know when each other is needed, and Phil was given the blessing of not letting Nancy die alone. God, in his wisdom, brought him to her side while doing what they both loved, hunting. And that's where we will remember her, hunting, getting a load of wood, building and she would say, "What do you want?" Get on with life, remember the peace, the beauty, the hunt...Let us pray."

Tears fell upon my rosy cheeks, for the last line was true. She will forever be in my heart, no matter whether I knew her or not. She was a part of my parents and my grandfather. Every story to be told will be another to add to my collection of thoughts. I know that if I ever wonder, I can ask questions and get honest replies. I know that if I miss her, she will never be that far away. I can always look back at her picture, or wear the earrings she wore when she was alive, or look at the beautiful wooden guitar my Grandpa gave me of hers. I believe that in some aspect of her death, there is peace. Every day I wear her metal feather earrings, that have a turquoise pendent in the middle, and her guitar sits in my closet. Someday I will buy new strings and tune it, so I can learn to play it for her. I bet she would love that.

The day my gramp gave these special items to me, he said, “Take care of them. She told me it was okay that you had them. I asked her.” Some people may think that’s crazy, but I believe that every spirit has a way to contact humans; it’s whether someone believes it’s possible or not. In fact, when I drive my jeep, once and a while, a hawk will fly in front of me as I’m going down the road. My father told me a story once. “Grandma always said that when she died, she would come back as a hawk.” I know she’s watching over me and trying to keep me as safe as possible. She knows my curiosity of her, and she knows we miss her.

In 1997, I was three years old. Grandma had held me as a newborn. And I have a picture of it on our wall. Her smile was beautiful, and I know that she was a happy woman, who took life as it was given. It's sad that it ended so short and sometimes I wonder, 'What would I do if I were to stand in her presence? What would I say? Or how would I react?' I guess that's one thing I won't have to worry about for some time. For now, all I have to do is simply look at the million stars in the pitch black sky and say, “Hi, Grandma, I miss you.”

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