She was frail and weak when she finally, quietly closed her eyes for the last time. She had to have been tired, nearly 96 years of living could do that to a person. Her last few years were spent not remembering the minutes before. She seemed trapped within her own mind and the swirling, confusing moments that had passed over a decade or more ago. A lifetime of memories were bottled up inside her and came spilling forth when given the chance and an audience willing to spend time with a true antique, a living piece of history, a chronicle of the past century.
I spent the last several years of my grandmother's life shuttling her up to our farm a couple of times a year for vacation. For five hours my daughters would sit in the back seat and entertain the same questions over and over again with patient understanding way beyond their years. The first trips went like that until the great-grandchildren unlocked the secret to history. Instead of answering the repeated, forgotten questions, they began asking questions of their own, important questions about topics from school, not the forgotten moments of two minutes ago. And a whole new world was opened to my children from across more than a generation.
There in the backseat, the Great Depression came to life. Stories of Prohibition and the scary thoughts of being jailed for making homemade dandelion wine, storing sugar in hidden little cubbyholes in the house during wartime overflowed from the back of our truck. There were tales of a WWII airman flying in the little bubble below the bomber and trolleys running their course down the main street of our town. The elementary school that I had attended and the kids attend today was once a tiny, one-room building housing all the grades and children of the town. Radio was replaced by TV and a man stood on the moon. Kennedy was assassinated and Dr. King had a dream. Vietnam, protests, and race riots, a whole textbook of history and the world was living and breathing in the back seat between two sets of eager ears and hungry minds.
I am sure that I have forgotten more stories than I have mentioned and my memories of family time spent together will always be mine. But the time I will cherish the most will always be those hours spent in the car listening to history come to life. Conversations that were quickly forgotten with the passing of a minute by one mind have had lifelong impact on younger minds. Four generations of my family have talked and laughed and sat around the dinner table of our farm. And the rides to and from that table have surrendered a wealth of memories.
As she quietly closed her eyes, history was lost. The events of a century housed in flesh found their rest, each piece of the past etched in a wrinkle across her face. We will never see those times again nor will we be able to hold the hands of those who lived it. I am glad to have been able to hear the stories, even more happy to know that my children, her great-grandchildren, could hear those stories from her lips. I can only hope that my mind fades long before those memories and that my life will be half as full with such great stories, a full life to be celebrated.