Last weekend I flew out to Chicago to meet my dad and brother. We drove up to Beloit, the small Southern Wisconsin city where my brother and I were born, for my grandma’s memorial service. She passed away in January of this year and her wish was to have her ashes sprinkled on the farm outside of Beloit that my grandfather built.
Losing a grandparent is like losing a big part of your history. When they leave this life as we know it many of their memories and stories go with them. It’s a very strange feeling to not have any more grandparents. It makes me wonder what it’s like for my parents, to be parent-less. I realize I am fortunate to be as close with my parents as I am an to have had relationships with three of my grandparents for as long as I did. The older I get the more I miss my grandparents and wish they were around. There are so many unanswered questions.
Spending time in Beloit was a little surreal. My dad’s family had lived there and owned a huge business for 100 years. There are names on college buildings belonging to my great grandparents and even a middle school named after my great grandfather. It’s a strange feeling to see all these names and wonder what they were like. We moved to Atlanta (where my Mom grew up) when I was four. I have some vivid memories of Beloit which seems odd since I was so young. My brother couldn’t believe I remembered so much because he doesn’t have any memories of that time. He was one when we moved.
There is this one memory that sticks out in my mind. My dad and I are in a narrow diner, sitting up at the counter. I’m drinking hot cocoa. I remember feeling really content, happy and safe. Afterwards he took me to the family company and introduced me to people. Even though I didn’t have the words for it I knew he was proud to be there with me. That might be one of my favorite memories of us.
We drive out to the farm and I don’t remember much until we are inside. The long hallway with all the rooms off of it. The light wood is everywhere and it even has a similar smell. The man who owns the farm now is kind enough to let us walk his property, come inside the house where my dad and uncle are sharing stories from when they lived there. It’s fun to watch them walk into a room. Their eyes change and the memories flood in.
We walk around outside and I see the patch of pine trees that my great grandfather planted for his grandchildren. They are over 60 years old and are so tall. It’s peaceful there and the energy is good. My Uncle walks to the car to bring Ggandma’s ashes out. They are much heavier and lighter in color than I would have imagined. The wind is blowing South East. We form a semi circle around a plaque on a large stone that says that is where my great grandfather planted all of those trees.
It’s late morning. The air is clean. A few, honest, heart felt words are spoken. My uncle spreads the ashes. The wind stops. Four magnificent hawks fly over head. There is a brief silence as we all stand there, tears streaming down our cheeks. This is what she wanted. Grandma told us for years the happiest memories of her life were living on that land and now she had finally come home.
At 4 p.m. we head to my uncle’s farm and it’s just as amazing as I remember. It’s been about 25 years since I’ve been there and it’s the first time we’re there with our cousins. The water is crystal clear and fresh from a well. There are fields of sunflowers (not quite in bloom), this beautiful tall grass, and the most gorgeous Weeping Willow I have ever seen. And another memory flashes in my mind. The Weeping Willow in our backyard at the house my dad built in Beloit. And the brown swing my grandfather built that I’ve always been sad my parents didn’t bring to Atlanta.
We eat a beautiful dinner. Laugh a great deal. My dad and uncle are hilarious together, always have been. I think of grandma and her stories of dinners at the farm and how my dad and his siblings would just tease each other the entire time.
Midwestern sunsets feel like home. You can see for miles and miles and the colors are like nothing I’ve ever seen. We say our goodbyes and get in the car. As soon as I close the door I see a lightening bug (now my Southern accent comes out a bit) and cheer with delight. Dad stops near the end of the driveway and tells me exactly where to look for them. We wait, patiently to see their amazing flickers. He urges me to get out of the car and catch one.
Another flash in my mind. Mom, dad, my brother and I are up at Lake Geneva in grandma’s condo. Lake Geneva is about 45 minutes from Beloit. I remember the Weeping Willows by the lake and running around with my brother catching lightening bugs at dusk. We just sit in the car, staring out the windows. Waiting for another flash.
I wanted to sit there forever.
We slowly pulled out of the driveway and head back to Beloit under that incredible sunset. There was this unspoken peaceful feeling between us. As we drive along the empty country road I look up at the sky and smile. She was with us the entire time.