While I was with Mama this week I came to understand a few things about how things are for her now - and to be emensely grateful for my passion for genealogy and for storytelling.
In one of his workshops storyteller Donald Davis told us to "take me someplace I can't go if you don't take me." I understood that perfectly. I had been doing that with Mama as part of my genealogy sleuthing. Once I began collecting family information I started sitting with Mama, or talking on the phone with her and asking her to take me places with her, some I knew and some I met through her memories.
These days my mother is traveling and because of all our genealogy journeys - I see some of the same things she does.
In the middle of a conversation Friday, I forget what we had been talking about, Mama said, " I went down to South Carolina but John Henry wasn't there." Startled, I tried to grab a new gear." " You did,? How old were you?"
" My age. Ellouise, I went there a few days ago." Fortunately I was getting onto her track.
" You mean you went to Sandy Springs, to the Keasler homeplace?"
"That's right, I did. But Mama and Dad Jack and my daddy did not go."
I guess not. Her father, Gus Keasler died when Mama was 15 months old and her Mama and Dad Jack, her step father, have been resting at Elmwood Cemetary since the 1960s. But I have been to the Keasler homeplace. In fact I took Mama down there twenty years ago to see Gus' last living sister, Annie Laura.
"Was it like it used to be?"
"Oh, Ellouise, it was. I went all through the house. No one was home. I did not see my grandfather, John Henry."
No surprise. John Henry Keasler died in the 1940s when I was 5 years old. It was a hot summer day when I sat on an open window sill of the whitl clapboard Methodist Church with Granny and Mama during the funeral service. John Henry is buried in the church yard next to his second wife, the woman Mama called Grandma. HIs first wife, Narcissus Howard, Gus's mother, rests in the same church year near her mother.
" I don't know why Mama wasn't there. I looked all over for her."
"Mama, I think its great that you can take these trips."
"Oh, I really do. I do it all the time myself. I sometimes imagine myself right back at 2308 East 7th Street, and I can see Granny. I can be right there with her. Are you doing that?"
"Take me to 10th Street, Mama. Tell me about your grandmother. Didn't she make all your clothes."
Mama smiled back at me. " With matching panties." And for a few minutes we were back in her grandmother's house on 10th Street, with the sweet smell of baked sweet potatoes in the warming oven waiting for Louie when she came home from school.
Yes, Mama is traveling - but mostly now she is looking for her mother.
She will say, " I want to go home." and some think she means she is "ready." Ready to be in Heaven, with her mother.
That's not it. That's too easy. If you really listen to her yearning you can hear the truth. A hurting we have no salve for.
Mama wants to go home. Home to her Mama where she was safe and loved. Home where she could climb up in Grandma's lap and snuggle close.
It hurts to touch that truth.
When I do I remember crying into my pillow when I was eight years old, at boarding school, wanting to go home to my mother. Crying without a sound. Crying until my eyes were stinging. Crying until my throat felt it would close.
Heaven was on 10th Street, heaven was anywhere close to Granny.
"Ellouise, you take me home. We will go in your car."
Mama, I would if I could.