Great Aunt Dorothy’s on a graveyard tour. Mother, brother, two sisters, and in between of course the living relations. One last trip out to the farm because it is ten hours from where she now lives and she is eighty-nine so it will likely not happen again. Not in her lifetime.
She says this with the kind of humor and plain matter-of-factness only the elderly possess.
This is the road that Great Aunt Dorothy travels; this is the road I take when I go home. This is the road where I once picked up a New Zealand hitchhiker, a tall tanned kid with a heavy bag, because absolutely no one hitch hikes on this stretch of road and I thought he might be one of my brother’s friends caught out from a party the night before.
The hitchhiker was on his way to an even smaller town one province west. His mother had done a farm stay in the area twenty years ago and he was going to visit the same family, still on the same family farm – a minor miracle in and of itself these days.
He gave me a slip of paper with his email address on it. “You’ve got a place to stay if you’re ever in New Zealand,” he said. “I won’t remember who you are but I’ll remember this stretch of road if you remind me.” I kept the slip of paper in my wallet for ten years before I lost it.
Grandma’s grave is not too far off this road, down a stretch of gravel in a place that is so far from pavement and cell phones and cyberspace it might as well be in another world. Grandma was Great Aunt Dorothy’s sister. We lost her to breast cancer when she was sixty-seven and that was fourteen years ago.
I try to describe my grandma to people, but I always fail in the fundamental way. I can tell you what she looked like and what she did – I can tell it in in a way that sounds almost mythic. A five-foot four wiry woman with a cap of grey curls, who walked a quarter section every day in the summer and kept up almost a mile in the winter, who tended five acres of garden and left two freezers full of food for grandpa and my bachelor uncle when she passed. When we went on walks I had a hard time keeping up to her. No one dared trespass in the kitchen when she was alive but that was where the whole family crammed into after the funeral. She passed away on a biting fall day but in April of that year she pushed my truck out of an icy patch while I manned the steering wheel, scandalized. I tried to make her get in the truck and drive while I pushed but do you think she would have any of that?
This is the first time my tiny son has traveled this road. I can just brush the top of his downy head in the car seat in the back if I stretch all the way. Driving home in the dark, I wonder, will we make it the whole way without crying? And why, exactly, did I decide to drive this two hours each way today? So we could have supper with a great aunt and second cousin whom I last saw eighteen years ago? Was that it?
The night road offers up a thought, and I think I understand. This is the closest I can get to bringing him home to grandma.