Thursday, January 12, 2006

Through the smudged window in the backseat of my mother's old station wagon the golden plains stretched out for miles. A long time ago there were great herds of buffalo grazing on the land before us. But on those days the only forms that broke the heavy line between earth and sky were the oil pumps that sit atop the wells, dipping their own heads slowly to the earth and rearing back up again. It was these beasts who stood a silent, undulating watch over the road to my great grandmother. They were her protectors.

Despite my mother's tales of my great grandmother's astounding life, for as long as I could remember her home was miles away from the city; a small white room in a small alzheimers treatment center in a small town. I don't know if it was hard for her to be there. If she felt any frustration inside it was lost somewhere between thoughts and words. One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching my mother pretend to understand the incoherent babbling of this woman who with many of her basic faculties, had lost the ability to form sounds into words. We would sit with her for hours and it all that time not a single intelligible word could struggled its way to the surface of all the sounds.

Was this really the same woman my mother had told me so much about? The one who had grown up in the highrises of New York City with chauffeurs and chefs; maids and butlers? The same one who had lost both her father and her husband when each one jumped from their office windows in the first few weeks of the great depression? Who helped her mother take their little remaining cash and buy up a few rundown buildings? Who married again to one of her dead husband's best friends, fought off tuberculosis and buried the pains of the old to give herself and her family a new beginning.

I wonder what she might have said to me if any real words had ever passed between us. The sickness stole her words and her memories but I don't' think it ever stole the glimmer in her eyes. Until the last days I remember it.

I don't have much reason to head out across those planes much anymore. But when I do I like to pull over to the side of the road and watch the oil pumps raise their heads and fall again. Out there in the fields was the only message my grandmother could leave for me. The promise that everything which falls will most assuredly rise again. That this is the cycle that was, that is, that always will be.


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