My 9-yr old cousin Mimi sold Girl Scout cookies this past winter, and I went a little crazy. I bought 8 boxes. They were left for me at Gram’s house (that’s what we call my Mom’s mom; it was the way we distinguished the different sets of grand-parents. Now, the two grand-mothers are all that’s left), and since she lives only about five minutes from my work, I went over and spent my lunch hour with her.
Sometimes she’s quiet; it might take her time to get comfortable with conversation, but today, she was set the moment I sat down with her, rifling through my Green- and Blue- and Purple-Boxed cookies. So there I sat, cookies in lap, a glass of orange juice set on a thick paperback about Ronald Reagan, and we talked. At first just about my job and some evening plans for making fettuccine and watching “LOST,” then about Mimi’s visit last weekend for Gram’s birthday. I brought up the “Harry Potter” series, because Mimi’s on “The Order of the Phoenix,” and we’ve made a plan to read “The Deathly Hallows” together. I hope she’s still a slow reader. Gram said she’d thought about reading them, but thought they’d be too daunting, but I convinced her to borrow the first one from me.
Right now she’s 300+ pages into a book about Alaska, and just mentioning it changed her entire countenance. She has trouble standing and often leans far back in her recliner, her voice is usually passive and a little distant. She sat up, picked up her book and started telling me about all the places she used to live that the book talked about; visiting friends from California on little Kodiak island; which led to her fascination with travel and planes, which led to one of my favorite stories she’s ever told me.
When she was much younger, she and her sister Audrey lived in North Hollywood. When their father died back in Montana, their mother moved out to California and the three lived together. She told me how they would drive into Burbank to the airport, sit inside at the restaurant and watch the planes take off. “It was one of the few things that we did just together. Well, we did everything together, but this was just me and my mother. Audrey didn’t come. She didn’t have any interest in it, I don’t know why.”
She told me how she loved planes, loved working for TWA and then later a travel agency. She told me stories of driving my mother and aunt to the Van Nuys airport, just about a mile from where I live now (and right past which I run on sunny days like today), to take a helicopter ride from there. And how neither of her kids seemed as fascinated by the experience as she was. “After we got done, we got back in the car, and your mother got in the backseat and then she threw up all over herself… She didn’t travel well.”
I’ve always meant to bring a recorder with me to capture these stories and I always forget. These are things that need to be preserved, these are memories that deserve to live on. They are those small, perfect little bits of family history that don’t get taxied out enough. Hearing little stories about my mother or about my great-grandmother, who I never met (I don’t think) but was such a vital part of Gram’s life when she was my age.
We talked about grandchildren, how I don’t have any and won’t. How my sister may have them before my brother or me. About high school reunions and their increasing obsolescence. “You go to one or two, but by then everyone has grown up and changed. People change.” My brother’s 10 year reunion is this year. I have no idea if he’s going to it. I have no idea if I’ll go to mine in 2 years. It feels like another lifetime. I still keep in touch with the people I want to be in touch with. More than anything, I think I agree with Gram: “Thinking about it, it just seems so long ago.”
Her stories can’t be told forever. I have to seek them out while I can.