Saturday, January 28, 2006

Jessie Agnes and Cecil Edwin Cook

As I lay in anxiety-induced sleeplessness I tried to calm and comfort myself by focusing on the "Battlestar Gallactica" tech post I wanted to write today. I was thinking of "When I was little, we had three channels on tv: ABC, NBC and CBS..." and as thoughts will at 2:30 in the morning in the dark, mine jumped way back in time to sitting with my grandfather and grandmother. I remember Grampa had a rogueish twinkle in his eye and he was telling me how they walked to school barefoot in the snow and Gramma chimed in "uphill both ways". I know those weren't the actual words they used, that was my mind overlaying my memory with a now worn and comfortable phrase. But the event did happen, and as I lay there I was taken with the need to talk to my grandfather and ask him to tell me again how he got to school everyday so I could picture it in my mind.

My grandparents grew up in Kansas and attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. They lived in a rural community, and there was a horse in the story. That's all I can remember. This all happened almost 100 years ago. But I can't ask my grandparents because they are gone. And their siblings--all but one--are also gone. My grandfather died of cancer in 1996. My grandmother went without warning one night in her sleep in 1985.

With Gramma, there was no preparation. She didn't have any notice to tell her stories one last time--at least that I knew of. She had prepared as people do prepare by leaving notes in things. "This sugar and creamer is Brenda's!" The note is still in the creamer in the china cabinet in my diningroom. I will leave it there for my daughter Jessie. I lived with grief for years because the night she died we were all to have dinner at their house and I did not go. I was back in college, living at home, and had homework or something and decided not to go.

Grampa knew in advance and he prepared. He wrote a beautiful document which I haven't seen since his funeral about all the things he saw and did in his life. He shook Franklin Rossevelt's hand. He saw "Wrong Way" Corrigan fly or did he shake his hand? That's the funny thing about memory. It's been 10 years since I saw that document and, like the walking-both-ways-in-the-snow incident, what I remember are not the details. I remember Grampa's humor and Gramma's teasing and the joy. I remember being filled with awe that my grandfather, old when I knew him, had seen and done so many exciting things and lived through such history.

Is it important that I know the true details and what really happened? The anal-retentive side of my personality insists upon it. But the part that is just maybe getting a handle on what's really important says no. Let go the details and remember what they meant, how they felt. It isn't important what Jessie and Cecil did. It is important that they lived and they loved and were loved so much.


Bill Paley said...


ren said...

while the details are not as important as the memory, i would say, remember to share your memories with your loved ones. i have found that i know stories about my grandparents and my parents that somehow my brothers don't know so i share all i can in hopes that we will all have some memories of each other. so keep the oral traditions alive! tell your tales, they won't stay the same over time but i suppose that's what makes them even better.