The past month has flown by, full of ups, downs and in-betweens.
October is always a special month for me. Number one, it's my birthday month. (If you didn't sing, feel free to do so now.) It also marks the beginning of my favorite season, when the long hot days turn crisp and chill, and I wake up one day and the leaves have turned a million shades of red and gold. This was one of the things that I really missed when we lived in California, where there are only four kinds of trees (palm, redwood, oak, and that other one), none of which really turn colors due to the broken thermostat that is San Francisco weather. It feels like New England has been working overtime to make up for all those lost autumns, and have put a class-full of kindergartners a fistful of oil paint and a twelve pack of Jolt cola, and told them that they were in charge of the leaves this year.
In short: it's beautiful. And you're never getting me to move back to California.
It was our second annual Bring-Your-Own-Jug cider pressing party. I took lots of brilliant photos of the kids helping press cider, on a not-snowy day (unlike last October), unfortunately, I forgot to have a disk in the camera. So no pictures. Silly me. There are, however, more than 30 lovely gallons now fermenting away in my basement for hard cider. About twice as much as last year, and another successful friends & neighbor event.
It's also the anniversary of my father, the surgeon's death. This year marks nineteen years. It would also have been his ninety-third birthday this month. I found myself looking through old photograph albums given to me by my mother, and picking out pictures of he and I together, trying to see what I will look like in a not so very distant future.
I think I was about 4 in that picture. And man, if I could find that kickin' suit my dad was wearing, I think I could totally pull that off.
Eleanor T. White was a remarkable woman. A librarian and elementary school teacher. A story teller and an independent woman who buried two husbands, one an alcoholic, and remained upbeat and optimistic throughout. She taught me both the love of reading and the love of animals. I never knew her not to have at least a couple of pets until she conceded to the fact that she could no longer live on her own. Even then, she convinced the nursing home that the cat outside her garden door was 'just visiting on a regular basis'. And I never saw her house in a state other than stacked high with books on every flat surface, spilling out of the shelves, and holding up a chair or two with a wobbly tendency.
We made each others' acquaintance when I was about 6 years old. Nanny (we called both my grandmothers 'Nanny') was my mother's first husband's mother. (get that? I'll wait here while you go back and read it again. OK, good.).
This made her my (half-)brother and (half-)sister's grandmother, but technically, not really related to me. And while we started out kind of eyeing each other across the breakfast table, quietly sizing one another up, we figured out that we had found a kindred spirit in one another well before the end of the day. And we never let the messiness of our familial ties stand in the way.
Nanny W. was, in many ways, the polar opposite of everything that Nanny P. was. My mother's mother was a consummate cook, who taught me what a beautiful work of art a fried pork chop could be. Nanny W. could burn water.
Nanny P. kept a quiet, old fashioned housekeeping in the same house for 50 years. Nanny W. moved every few years, and her house was piled to the rafters with clutter.
Nanny P. was content to move from her garden to the grocery store to the kitchen to the garden again. Nanny W. would shuffle me into the car, where we'd drive over to pick up one of her other octogenarian church companions, and the we'd to tootling over the Blue Ridge mountains, just a 4th grade and two old ladies, "exploring" until we stumbled across the Dahlonega, Georgia gold mine, or the Etowah indian mounds.
Growing up, I'd spend half my summer with Nanny P, and be surrounded by love and comfort and all I could eat biscuits and gravy. I'd spend the other half with Nanny W., and be laughing from the time we got up (not too early) to the time we dropped of Ms. Callahan, Ms. Lela, or one of the other adventuring companions in their driveways in the last drippings of north Georgia dusk. Usually only so late because we gotten lost on the way home.
It was with these memories, and a thousand more, that I would later ask my bride if we could name our daughter after my grandmother. (in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story, it wasn't until several years later, and after I introduced our son to Nanny that she reminded me that her little brother was named Sam, the same as our new son.
She was free-spirited in a gentle, perversely stubborn and kind-hearted way. She taught me that the way to capture someone's attention was to tell them a story. I still have the "little pig that wouldn't go over the fence and I shan't get home tonight" story mostly memorized. And she was pragmatic in a way that does not grow often outside of pre-War Appalachia.
Over the last few years, I'd swing through Tennessee on my way to and from California. (Or pretty much to and from anywhere that put me vaguely over that part of the globe). I'd bring her a couple of salty country ham biscuits to provide some relief from the nursing home food. She was 90 years old, and when I met her doctor on one of my visits, he and I just shrugged together, and agreed that a little flavor couldn't do any harm at this point. I'd bring my banjo, and play badly for her. The last time I did so, she smiled and told me that I "played badly better than you used to," - perhaps the best compliment I've ever received about my musical efforts.
And then we'd sit and talk for hours about most anything. Her mind remained sharp well after her body started deteriorating, and she'd still make me laugh until my sides hurt. In the last five years, her knees had crumpled to the point that walking was difficult. For the last two years, her eyesight had gone to the point that the only way she could still read was to get books on tape. She had the satisfaction of seeing a Democrat re-take the White House, and being able to laugh at her grandson's forlorn expression at the fact. She told me she was pretty much ready to die.
Others seemed to have a harder time with that than I did. But at 90 years, she had seen, done, and lived more than most anyone I know. I figured I should trust her judgement. She was always a hell of a lot wiser than I was. She was content with what she had accomplished, satisfied with the choices she had made, and happy with the love that she had passed on. That's a pretty hard record to beat.
I can only hope that our little Eleanor grow up to be as classy and strong, with as much hope and patience, and that I can show her just a little bit of the adventure in life that you showed me, Nanny. We love you.