Funerals and weddings. These are the rituals that give some shape to life, along with holidays and those quirky events some families invent. These are the things that usually draw those of us who have left back to our hometowns. Except for me. I hadn’t been back home since 1993. There’ve been a few funerals, and quite a few weddings. My own even (never mind the divorce). And all this avoids the obvious. Nearly two decades passed before Meme’s death forced my Mom and I to return home.
Three thousand miles is nothing. Two decades, however, make for some rough travel. Landing in the Burlington Airport was surreal. Meme’s body had arrived hours before us. We were renting a car, and so insisted no one meet us at the Airport. Stepping off the plane, retrieving luggage, taking the shuttle; it all adds up to mundane, something we’ve both done before. Once we turned the rental North on Route 89, the routine flickered and reality peeked around the edges.
The roads were wet from a rainstorm. Color saturated the sky, and the thick clouds sopped it up, too. Green surrounded us, which is actually an understatement. I almost felt like the trees were infusing me with light, trying to counteract the darkness, which was not sadness but nerves. Family was waiting. So was grief.
When we reached St. Albans, Mom drove around town, pointed out the things she remembered. All the while, crazy thoughts were looping in my head. My cousin—who I remember as a kindergartner—is pregnant. The one in elementary school has facial hair and lives with his girl friend. My Aunt and Uncle are gone. My cousin has served umpteen tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard core tripping.
As the week unfolded, however, some of the awkwardness faded. Many of us faced my grandmother’s funeral together, as a family. It was painfully small. Most of her friends have passed, and there aren’t many of us left either. But we shared memories, our grief. We shared moments under the stars, in the pool, drinking and watching the lightening bugs dot the edge of the forest. It ached. It was wild, and full. And it was home.