Sunday, April 22, 2012

Follow the Leader

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul to another. - George Eliot

Delightful mischief. (That is not the name of this horse.)
The familiar smile looking back at me from the memorial celebration invite pinned to the fridge still looks as bright as when the postman delivered it over a month ago. Her smile doesn’t change at all across my thirty three years of memories that include her, nor has it faded in these last seven months since she passed away. Steady, smiling, warm. The memories of her life that I hold in my mind go further back in time than what my three decades could include. The stories she told color my mind, a vibrant life lived with intention and carefree confidence, with laughter and smiles no matter the ups or downs, a life filled with love freely given.

“She was a wonderful sister,” Lorna says. “She was just wonderful,” clasping my hand with hers. Her hand is cool, smooth, and lovely - just the way her sister’s felt, only less crooked with arthritis. “She shouldnt have had to be that responsible but she took care of me. Only two years were between us, but she was my big sister. She always took care of me.” Lorna’s eyes get bigger as they look into mine, searching for understanding, for acknowledgment, and...almost... for a bit of forgiveness, maybe about having been the younger.

They were only 5 and 7. At first, it was Daddy who led the horse three miles from their Miles City homestead to the school house until the horse learned to make his way alone with the two little girls on his back. The next time she told it, it was Mama. Either way, it was a shame that one parent or the other didn’t take the girls the short distance to school in their car. Corma shouldn’t have had to be responsible - they were babies. But they wanted to go to school and Lorna had Corma, and Corma took care of her. She sat in the saddle leading the horse with Lorna sitting just behind the saddle. Their path crossed a creek where the horse would take the break to drink. It path crossed a meadow where he would snack on tall grasses. There were wolves in those parts of Montana. Why didn’t Daddy or Mama take them to school? “Corma was such a wonderful sister.”

My mind often sees my grandmother in one particularly cold Montana winter in the early 1940’s when she was a single woman in her late 20’s. She stood at the bus stop in a heavy jacket that covered her well-dressed, shivering figure, its thick fur collar pulled tight around her neck as she tried to stay warm. It was so cold it hurt to breathe. It Hurt. To. Breathe. She had tried to build a life there, had worked her way through business college and found a good job, her family lived nearby, she had good friends who she went with to dances and parties. But was she happy enough to stay in that cold, harsh place? She was smart and intuitive to know when something wasn’t right, when enough was enough, when it was time to let go and move on.

She didn’t wait for anyone else to make life happen for her. In a time without Facebook, pinning, skype, texting, cell phones, her only connections to the family and friends she left behind were limited to handwritten letters, the occasional telegram and the once-in-a-blue-moon visit. She could’ve stayed with the familiar. She could’ve shivered and pouted. Instead, she loaded up her Little Green Hornet with her belongings and drove west, an extra set of retread tires that her Butte employer had given to her as a parting gift in the trunk just in case. If she felt fear, she moved through it. Courageously. She said yes to life. Of all her stories, this is my favorite.

Lorna is 95 and sometimes her memory switches things - was it Daddy or Mama? - and today she shared this story with me many times, each time as if it had never been told before. We aren’t so different - I have shared the story I treasure many times too. Maybe there is a reason we tell the same tales over and over. Despite some discrepancies, some details don't ever change.

Corma was a wonderful sister. Corma was a wonderful grandmother. She lived with courage. She delighted in the new and different, standing tall and proud of herself and her family with graceful confidence.

Lorna’s eyes twinkle while she gently, firmly clasps my hand as she tells me the story again. Behind that beautiful twinkle and in her grip, is such familiar confident pride and gentle caring. Does she know how many similarities she has to my grandmother? When I close my eyes, I see her smile, hear her happy laugh and every now and again, I see a spark of her fire for life in my own heart and mind encouraging me to say “Yes, Go.”

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