Self-care seems to be the newest "hot button word" thrown around during this never-ending roller coaster of a year. My self-care consists of playing my guitars, ukuleles, and learning to play my deceased grandfather's fiddle. Gardening was once fun, but my garden is now dead, save three bell pepper plants that are in their second round of bloom this season. How are they even surviving this?! I had to rip everything else out during the Great Ash Fest 2020, and was too afraid to eat any of the tiny cucumbers and honeydew melons for fear of lye poisoning.
And as one of my favorite holidays gets trampled, it just raises up the grief I have that is all-consuming. I grieve for my recently passed grandmother, whom I cared for for many years. She was 97, and a huge part of my life since the day I was born. Her passing makes me miss my dad, my aunt, and grandfathers. I can remember, the day before my grandma was to travel alone to Texas (a trip she made yearly with my grandfather who had passed two months prior), and having a bursting radical idea pop into my head. I wanted to go with her. I couldn't imagine a summer without my grandmother's house as a place of solitude when my younger siblings created chaos. I called my grandma and asked her if she was willing to have me as her new travel companion. She agreed, as long as my dad (her son) agreed. As a 12 year old, who had already made this trip, and beyond, with my immediate family, I was hoping this was enough experience to allow me the venture. I think the thought of two younger siblings being vice-mommed by a pre-teen may have been in the forefront of my parents' minds as well, for I was granted the permission to explore the southern states with my nearly septagenarian companion with one caveat--I had to call them nightly.
We called ourselves Thelma and Louise (as that is my middle name) while I navigated her '84 white Caddilac Coup de Ville using a trusty ol' Rand McNally. I wrote in a journal, daily, about our adventures. At one point, I jokingly penned that my grandmother was flirting with the grocery store clerk in New Mexico. In another account, later that day, I wrote how we were trapped in our hotel room with no electrical power, unable to utilize the motel pool, due to a flash flood. My favorite entry has to be when we "got lost."
On our way out of Texas, and into New Mexico, we came upon some road construction that steered the Caddy away from our normal route. We found ourselves in a Native American reservation with beautiful views of the desert. We continued on, and eventually found a small greasy spoon for our lunchtime meal. It was dark inside. Along the south windowed wall was a row of dark pleather booths, some with tears. Dollar bills hung everywhere. Each one had writing on it. Some stated how much they loved the food and atmosphere, while others requested a phone call. The bar on the north wall was backlit with cheap top shelf liquors and a large barback who was ready for orders. Two locals nursing beers watched a small televsion above the barback's head and talked about the baseball game. This place looked a tad bit rougher than the Denny's restaurants we were known to frequent on this trip. And I felt very out of place.
After ordering, I used the road atlas and mapped out which directions we were to go when our meal was over. It was still an hour away from the main freeway, and my grandma had annoyance in her voice--not from me, as I had followed the map, but of the hours of time this had taken away from our daily drive toward home. "When we get back on the freeway, I'm gonna scream," she declared over the country tunes emitting from the jukebox.
After lunch, we continued along the drive, talking about what fun we had during our adventure. I sang along to the radio, and even read a chapter or two of "Onion John", as this was well before cell phones and apps, and I was an avid reader. When the conversation winded down, we rode in silence and listened to the sad tunes of heartache while admiring the desert. We were approaching the freeway and I was happy that we were back where rest stops would be plentiful.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!" My grandma screamed from the top of her lungs. This was not a sound I had EVER heard emit from her small frame. I looked to my left at her with my heart pounding, worried I had to grab the wheel and steer us to safety. I was concerned that my grandmother was suffering a heart attack. My blood pressure rose as she continued to scream and I searched for an answer to this unusual behavior.
"Nana, are you okay?" I asked frantically.
With a twinkle in her blue eyes, in her Oklahoman accent, and without missing a beat calmly said, "I told you I was gonna scream when we got back on the freeway."
This is one memory that epitomizes my grandma. She was sneaky. She had an amazing sense of humor and loved practical jokes. She was surprisingly humble, but proud. She was admirable in her accomplishments, but always wanted her kids and grandkids, and great-grandkids to do well for themselves. She gave me the opportunity to go to college and do better than those before me.
We took this trip again when I was 15. We had too many fun days and funny stories for me to tell here. But it was always something we talked and laughed about, even in her days just before passing. I'm so grateful to have had the luxory of knowing my Nana and spending nearly every day of my life with her. She is missed.
Tuesday, we will drive up the winding roads through the blackened hills of the lake where my family was raised. We will be in separate cars due to COVID-19. My remaining immediate family members will be six feet apart wearing masks to bury Nana next to my grandfather and my aunt in the only cemetary there. My childhood home, and Nana's old home are burned to the ground within walking distance of a quarter mile away. We will sprinkle some of my dad's ashes upon his family's graves. It is the most depressing way I can think of to spend time with my family, some of whom I haven't seen in person in months.
The grief I feel, isn't just for my grandmother. I grieve shopping, which I HATE. I grieve eating at our favorite restaurants. I grieve my son playing with his friends. I grieve for my students having to sit in front of a screen for their lessons. I grieve for my once feeling of safety and sanity. I greive for all that we are losing as a country divided. Every day I mourn the life we once had. I miss the innoncence of 2019.
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.