Home again…

…and I don’t remember how to spell the rest of that quote. (what I remember is jonna-gin, which doesn’t seem right…help?)

Anyways, this was an adventure all right. And the real force of it waited to hit me tonight. I guess I’m grateful for that…

My grandparent’s flight got canceled on Friday. Not too surprising, since Grand Junction isn’t exactly a hotspot of tourism, and has only a regional airport. Apparently, two of my cousins were also on that flight, so they ended up coming in together a couple of hours later. So half of the family was late to the first funeral. (There was a family-only open-casket on Friday. The open ceremony was on Saturday.)

I don’t like funerals. I have never had an issue with the dead, I really don’t have an issue with death at all. Maybe I’ve lost too many people, but it just…is. What gets me are the living, and that’s why I try to avoid funerals.

My great-grandfather has now buried two wives, a brother and a son. He’s a tough old hellion, but that takes a lot out of anyone. And he sat and gave us a biography of his wife Friday night, talking about ‘his lady’, ‘his girl’, ‘his Del’. He was sobbing towards the end, the proud man who never shows weakness of any sort. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building. His simple, heart-broken testimony just smashed all of us across the head. Even now, it makes me tear up.

After that, we went to his house for supper and family time. I haven’t seen most of my family since I was in the 4th grade, so it was very interesting. My circumstances have changed drastically. There’s very little love for my grandmother, and great-aunt Marge was thrilled that I’d finally moved away from that influence. I got cuddled a great deal, which was slightly disturbing, but lovely.

My cousin Greg is also finally home from Iraq, and swaggered around, tormenting people. But apparently, neither the Rangers nor PsychOps teach tickle-resistance. Mom found that one out. I found out that any time he had me restrained, my hands were plenty close to his body to get revenge. Funny how often he was heard to exclaim “That’s not fair! That’s not right!”. Um, hon, in THIS family? Since when did we EVER play fair? Really?

Saturday, half of the family went to church, while mom and I schlepped my grandmother and uncle out to one of the local monuments.

Grand Junction is to the western side of Colorado. It sits in a flat valley, completely rimmed by spectacular red sandstone cliffs and mesas. Flying out, you look down into deep valleys and see the beginning of the region containing places like Bryce and Arches. There are hundreds of trails, hidden treasures and adventures.

So, we found one such trail, headed up the bank…and I did a face-plant. Apparently the soil is frozen pretty solid, except for the 1/2 inch of grease-slick mud on top. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense, and managed to keep laughing all weekend. Once I got sorted out, we headed down the trail. There was a big sandstone spur of slickrock, so my uncle and I clambered up to the top of that.

Of course, I promptly remembered why I love the west so much, and why I miss it so terribly. The wind was strong enough to require some bracing. The thin, cold air had a purity that I feel nowhere else. The sounds of the city were muted, barely noticeable. The land was front and center.

I feel tiny beneath those cliffs, while they feel alive. I close my eyes, and I see every detail of them, the full panorama. The land has spirit, life, that the south doesn’t have. I am naturally restless, mercurial and unable to slow myself down. The absolute peace that I find in places like that is something that I treasure more than anything else in this world.

It was good to have that. The tension between my grandmother and me is always brought to a head in public, and more than usual in situations where people and outside stress are involved. I needed that calm for the rest of the afternoon. (The sitting through a sermon didn’t help. I am not a church or sermon person. And it isn’t my religion anymore…)

The graveside ceremony was short, sweet, fairly simple. Not as terribly painful and exhausting as the family service, but we were all drained by the end.

There is one moment I think I will always remember. Saturday night, I went to my great-grandfather and put my hand on his shoulder. Asked how he was doing. He took my hand, looked up at me, and said “In love with you,” and that was all. He is not senile, he did not think I was somebody else. It was simply a poignant, painfully-sweet reminder that I am truly more like him than I am like anyone else in the family, and that we have a powerful relationship, even with the minimal time we’ve had together.

He said his goodbyes to us. If I ever see him alive again, I will be shocked. Those were his final goodbyes. I wish I had more time with him. I wish that my grandmother had not cut me off from the family that loved me more than they had any reason to. I wish a lot of things, but I had this weekend, and that was enough. They know. I know.

But, in a way…I almost wish that I hadn’t gone. I was disconnected, before. It had been so long that it was blunted. Going, seeing the absolute loss…it hurts far more than it would have otherwise. My great-grandfather is not a gentle, sweet person. Very little of our family blood tends towards that. But they have always been one of the few solid, unshakable pillars of love and affection in my somewhat shaky childhood.

It is what it is. We all know that. But for once, I do have resentment, and anger, and regrets, and that makes this harder than most. Especially because the negatives are not at all the fault of the dead one, and are things that cannot be repaired or changed.

I am grateful for that piece of the family, however. My cousins are about the best on the earth. The military tradition is pretty rich in our family, and I do love the sense of humor that so many of the guys have. My great-uncle was a bush pilot for years. They love the outdoors even more than I do. It was validating to go to that situation as an adult. I do not take after my grandmother’s side at all. But I take after the Gates side so hard that it scares me!

I have a lot of pictures, and a lot of stories. I’ve decided to write some of them down. The people in my family are pioneers, movers and shakers. They don’t have the fanaticism of my grandmother’s side, mostly, so the passion is put into learning, doing, success.

As a light note to end this long-winded reminiscing: I have long referred to this side simply as “The Family”. It’s hard not to. The politics, the political maneuvering, the tempers and drama… However, it appears that I am not the only one who does that. Andrea called us that this weekend too! It pleased me immensely!

Grandma Del has been praying for us her entire life. She’s been trying to get us all back together for years.

And, finally, she had the last word. We all came together, and held hands, and made up, remembered, prayed, said goodbye.

So, goodbye, Grandma. You were my hero, my guardian angel, more grandma than great-grandmother, and more important to me than you probably ever knew.

I hope you and Grandpa are back together, very soon.


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