A Christmas Journey
Last week, on the 22nd, I drove up to Pennsylvania to visit my family, many of whom live south of the Altoona area, the former railroad mecca.
As is often the case, the weather in D.C. was sunny and mild and the farther north and west I drove, the grayer and chillier it became, until there were periods of freezing rain and some snowflakes, too.
That is a week I vividly remember as my mother, Louise Lamar, died in a Johnstown, PA, hospital on Wednesday, December, 19, 2007.
I had just driven back from Johnstown the night before to DC when, at about 7AM the following morning, the hospital called to say some lab results had come back and though her death had not been considered imminent, the tests suggested otherwise.
I was back on the road quickly and made the three-hour drive in somewhat less than that.
I had called my cousins en route, who were two hours closer, and asked them to head that way, just in case.
When I arrived at her room, there she was, laying in bed, legs pulled up under the covers, the USA Today on her lap, watching CNN.
Not exactly the final scenes of a dying woman.
My cousins, Joyce and Barry were keeping her company, discussing the news.
I joined them, sitting on Mom’s bed as we discussed the day’s events, including a fire at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.
After a bit, she said, “I am so tired.”
I said, “Mom, then you should go to sleep.”
She closed her eyes and lay very peacefully, still inclined on the bed, as the cardiac monitor tracked her declining rate until, in about two minutes, she was gone.
As I drove up the other day, I recalled those events and then it occurred to me that the 22nd was the day, eleven years ago, when we laid her to rest, in very similar weather.
In Everett, PA, I stopped at her grave site, noting that the marker needs to be cleaned.
When I arrived at my cousin’s house and we had caught up, she told me that in cleaning out the basement they had found something I should have.
It was a copy of William Wordsworth Longfellow’s Hiawatha, albeit with an unexpected provenance.
Here I should note that all my grandparents and my father died with me barely knowing them.
The effect of that is impossible to know or explain as you would have to know the opposite situation in order to compare and that is never truly possible.
It’s not even a blank canvas or empty space as my childhood was (luckily) filled with other people and experiences.
But, when a piece of information arises from the past that connects their lives with mine, it stirs an interest of a special kind.
Hiawatha was owned by my maternal grandfather when he was 17 years old, in 1908.
At some point it was passed onto my mother when she was a child and now it has been passed to me.
As I come from a family of readers, this a tantalizing gift.
Did my grandfather love to read?
Was that trait passed to my mother and hence to me?
Of course, I’ll never know, but all lives contain a bit of mystery and I will go where the clues take me.
I have Hiawatha to read and discover, a tangible link to a distant past.