At the end of a life…

Coming Home: At the end of a life
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Over supper tonight I was attempting to tell my husband about the highlights of my recent getaway to Nashville when my 3-year-old interrupted me repeatedly, insisting her story was more interesting.

“I went to the big town and swam in a hotel pool and met a friend with curly hair who shared her mermaid while you were on vacation to Menards,” she declared.

Nashville. Menards. To a 3-year-old, it’s all the same and another reminder that I was back to the reality of two-toddlers-in-the-house-supper-conversation as we rolled into bath time and bedtime and now here I am trying meet a deadline, piecing thoughts together as the clock pushes midnight…

A few years before my grandmother Edie died, she went on a trip by herself to Alaska. I’m not sure why I remember her vacation so vividly, but maybe it was because the timing fell in the short years she lived after her husband died and so, even as a 9-year-old kid, I was aware of her loneliness.

I understood somehow it was an adventure she never had a shot at as a daughter of homesteading immigrants turned into a rancher and mother of four turned into a widow before she even had a chance to turn 60.

I like to think of her standing on the deck of the cruise ship, posing in front of an iceberg, her magenta lips smiling wide and brave at a new beginning. There have been a million times since she died that I feel like we were robbed of her long life. She would have loved Nashville.

Last week, my husband’s grandmother died while I was sitting in a pew at the Grand Ole Opry. I found out between acts. And even though I suspected it was coming, my heart sank and I cried.

Of course I cried at the loss of a life so precious to all of us. I watched the rest of the show with that lump in my throat, thinking of Leona and how she would have loved the Opry if we could have ever convinced her to spend that kind of money on a ticket when she could listen for free on the radio for crying out loud, which was just one of the many reasons we loved her.

Leona was a woman raised on the dirt of the Great Depression who made up for her low thermostat setting with her warm nature and good humor. The first time I met her I was just a teenager, warned not to leave too many bites of pancake on my Perkins plate, not because she would judge you necessarily, but because it would drive her crazy.

“She cuts her paper plates in half,” said my future husband.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

Maybe then I laughed at the absurdity, but ask me now and I will tell you this world needs more people like Leona. There’s not enough space here to tell you all of the reasons, but I hope I’ve said enough for you to understand why I kept her on my mind as I bought a round of drinks at Tootsie’s, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and cleaned all of my plates.

Tomorrow, at her funeral, I will learn a little more about the places she went to forget about the burdens of life. I have a hunch her trips were more twirls across the dance floor with the men she loved than overpriced flights across the country.

She always seemed as content with where she was as she was content with that old VHS player no one could convince her to upgrade. And as a person who is always reaching and wondering, I admired her for that.

We were given the gift of Leona’s long life, but I wish I would’ve asked her if she thought we ever have enough time, although I think I know the answer. It’s only the ones left behind who feel robbed.

Leona, tomorrow I’ll play you “Red River Valley.” We’ll miss you forever.

10 thoughts on “At the end of a life…

  1. Moved from a ranch north of Bismarck to Hendersonville, TN 4 years ago! We love being only 30 min. from downtown Nashville! The people here are wonderful…but your stories take me back to my heritage…alfalfa fields, horseback riding with Dad and singing duets as the sun sets, the most amazing skies anywhere, meadowlarks singing, lilacs in bloom and prairie values! Thanks for the weekly reminders and the darling pictures!!!

  2. I too, am sorry for your loss Jessie. Grandma’s are so very special and sometimes I can hardly believe I’m one now! It was wonderful seeing a picture of your Grandma Edith…I actually have pictures of Edith, Cleo and my Mom, Minerva when they were teenagers together.
    p.s. after listening and watching your “Work” video from your last post I ordered that CD from Amazon and I’m anxiously awaiting it’s arrival. My kids tell me I’m “old school” still buying CD’s but that’s “how I roll” and that’s okay. 😉
    p.s.s. I love your writing and your voice. 😍

  3. Jessie, I love your sharing of your precious memories with all of us. Without fail they bring back memories of my own parents and grandparents. My Mother was also a saver…we always said she was the first recycler before it became the thing to do. Plastic containers were always used for leftovers; she didn’t need to buy Tupperware, She even saved the wax paper from cereal boxes and reused that. She was a farmer’s wife and worked hard all her life. When Dad was working in the field she would be milking the cows, taking care and of her chickens, etc. along with all the indoor work. There were 6 kids in our family and even after we were all gone, she still found it hard to downsize her garden, so many people were the lucky beneficiaries of her produce. She died in 1998 and I still think of her often, especially when I am working in my garden. She was a school teacher until we children were born. I always said she was not only my mother, but also my teacher and best friend. Thank you again and keep on writing.

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