Two days to say thank you…
Earlier this year I set out on a mission, determined to find the answer to the question that I dreaded being asked growing up. For months I poured through records, searched countless documents and finally found what I was looking for: I found my heritage.
Then on Mother’s Day, the moment I had waited for finally arrived. I had a huge gift wrapped and ready to give to my grandmother. I watched her eyes try to take it all in as she looked at the family tree I had made for her, reading the names of our ancestors until she reached the very top branch and saw the little bit of information that I was so excited to share with her. While she was right that our roots were firmly planted in Kentucky, our family tree actually started in England. “A briar and a brit“…this is how my grandma now describes our heritage.
But the picture of our family tree was only half of the gift that I wanted to give to my grandma. Now it was time for part two.
I decided it was time to take my grandma on a very special road trip. It was time to take my grandma home…to the place where she was born: Pikeville, KY. It had been about 40 years since she’d been back to her home town and this gave me a perfect opportunity–not only to learn more about my grandma, but just as important, to spend quality time with her.
While my mom and I had spent weeks planning this mini-vacation, we knew there was one complication that we couldn’t control–my grandma’s memory. Over the past year, my grandma’s memory has quickly faded; she forgets things within minutes.
My mom and I thought we had a solution to this issue: we reminded her constantly about the trip, put it on her calendar that hangs on her fridge and asked my grandpa to help make sure Grandma would be ready. I called her the night before to remind her of our plans. So did my mom. But it wasn’t enough. My mom was supposed to pick her up at 8:00, but when she called to let her know she was on her way at 7:50, my grandma was still sound asleep. Yep–she forgot. Not packed. Not showered.
Arguments out of love….
While an hour later than we originally planned, we were finally off; however, Grandma didn’t make the trip easy for us. Here’s the thing about my grandma: she worries about EVERYONE…everyone that is, except for herself.
In fact, she argued with us most of the trip. She was upset with me when I climbed in the backseat of the car–she wanted me to be comfortable and thought I should sit up front. We had this argument every time we got in the car. She fought with us after EVERY MEAL when we wouldn’t let her pay. She even refused to sleep in the king bed in our room and instead insisted on sleeping on the roll-away bed.
I knew the problem: She was so used to being the one helping others; it was really hard for her to let go and let others take care of HER.
But she could argue with us all she wanted–my mom and I were determined to treat my grandma to everything on this trip. For two days, we would be the ones taking care of her–whether she liked it or not. 🙂 It was a small way of thanking the woman who, along with my mom, has taken care of me every day of my life. The woman who I love and respect more than I could every put in words. While her memory is fading and she may not remember the millions of things she’s done for me over my life…I haven’t. And I never will.
The trip was filled with so many highlights.
- I booked us a room in a very quaint bed & breakfast–a restored mansion that was simply gorgeous. This was my first B&B experience–and it set the bar high! The charm was undeniable; however, some of the old-fashioned touches did confuse us a little bit. Take for example the late night call we had to make to the next door hotel, trying to figure out how to work the shower. (Who knew in old houses that you needed to pull the faucet down to get the shower to come on?)
- Want a good example of the kind of woman my grandma is? At nearly every stop we made, I would look over and see my grandma hugging someone. We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view, and another family walked by–a mom and dad with a little girl. I was just going to let them pass…but not my grandma. She asked what the little girl’s name was and started talking to her. And before I knew it–the little girl had her arms wrapped around my grandma. Even as we were leaving the B&B, my grandma hugged the receptionist goodbye. Who does this? I honestly think that she has so much love inside of her that she can’t help herself; and people can’t help but love her back. She has this effect on everyone around her–she’s been like this since I was little…and it’s one of the things that I love most about her.
- On the way home, I wouldn’t say we got lost…but I think it’s fair to say that we accidentally took just about the longest route possible to get home. Over our extended drive, the three of us got a bit slap happy and were cracking up about everything. (Want a sure fire way to make my mom smile? Just ask her about the life sized monkey dressed in overalls that we saw sitting in the middle of someone’s front yard. I’m not making this up!) I don’t remember the last time I saw my grandma laugh so hard.
And besides giving us hours of laughter, our accidental detour provided me with another unexpected gift. We ended up driving through dozens of small towns in Ohio, including Peebles–where my great-grandmother on my grandpa’s side lived. I didn’t plan it, but it turned out this trip gave me the chance to connect with both sides of my mom’s family.
- While my grandma was born in Pikeville, she spent most of her life growing up in a few smaller towns about 30 minutes away. We drove through the “hallers” of Melvin and found my grandma’s old grade school. A few miles away in Wheelwright we drove by the old gymnasium that was attached to her old middle school. (The school was torn down decades before, but the gymnasium is still there.) While she didn’t recognize either of these landmarks, (a lot changes over four decades…even in small Kentucky towns), it was still one of the coolest feelings to get a glimpse at my grandma’s roots. I loved imagining her as a little girl…walking to these schools with her brothers and sisters.
My one disappointment…
There was only one disappointment from the trip. There was something that I really wanted to do while we were there–a special place I wanted to visit. I wanted to find the graves of my great grandparents. I knew this wouldn’t be easy. The challenge: They’re buried on an unmarked hill (not in a cemetery) and neither one has a head stone. My grandma used to just know the site by memory. When my mom was a little girl, she took her there. She knew the place by heart. But unfortunately, that memory is no longer with her.
We drove around the small town of Robinson Creek for nearly three hours. We stopped at stores to talk with locals, hoping to uncover a clue. We drove down streets, desperately looking at all the hills–trying to spot something that looked like a small graveyard. Hoping my grandma would see something…anything that would point us in the right direction.
We never found it.
I was crushed…and my mom could tell. Then she said something that did provide me some comfort. “Your great-grandparents are resting exactly where they wanted to be. They’re on a small, quiet hill–overlooking the beauty of the mountains.” She was right. The town was small, but it was absolutely beautiful.
I had my heart set on finding their graves. I had so much I wanted to say to them. I wanted to tell them thank you–thank you for raising my grandma to be such an incredible woman, someone who has taught me generosity and unconditional love. I wanted them to know that their legacy lives on–that the little family they raised in the “hallers” of Kentucky has gone on to live successful lives. I wanted to pay my respects to the two people who had an enormous impact on my life…even though they never met me.
And while I never got to put flowers on their graves, I hope these words somehow find them.
And while she may not remember it, I hope these words stay forever with my grandma: Thank you. I am incredibly proud to be your granddaughter and I love you with all my heart.