Back in the May, when I was getting ready to graduate, I went diving through boxes upon boxes of old photographs. I remember stopping at one of myself at about eighteen months old, dressed in a cow costume with my mama holding on to me from behind.
Grinning, I showed it to her, and she smiled back at it. She said, "That was the Halloween my Grandpa Sam passed away. Your daddy and I had just gotten back from the hospital, and we came to pick you up to go Trick-or-Treating." Stopping, I thought about her memories of the man that I only had wisps of now. Broken pieces of a day in summer sunlight when I laughed and splashed him and my great grandma Ozella (my papa's parents) from a kiddie pool. I'm still not even sure if that's a real memory or if it's a dream, but I like to think it happened. I thought about how I have grown up surrounded by people who love me, who have told me stories of the people who loved them like my Grandpa Sam, or my nana's mama, my Grandma Junetta. I was struck by how strange it was that those people had known me, but I hadn't known them. It made me sad.
A few weeks ago, my nana came home from Hobby Lobby with bags full of silk flowers. Bright fall oranges and reds and yellows and golds were bursting out the top. When I asked her for the occasion, she said it was time to replace the flowers on our family's graves. I told her when she went, I wanted to go.
Friday, my papa, nana, and I loaded up and left for three cemeteries. We first headed to Bethel Baptist Church in Omega, the place where my Grandpa Sam and Grandma Ozella are now buried. As some of the founding members of the church, Sam and Ozella had spent decades of fellowship there, with Sam even serving as choir director and deacon for many years. On the way there, my papa and nana regaled me of stories from when they were younger. They pointed out places like where Ozella lived and where my papa went to school. To me, it was like magic.
At Bethel, we cut the flowers apart, and placed them in the pot between their headstones, and I realized that it was the first time I had been back to see Ozella since she died when I was a freshmen. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with amazement, heartache, happiness, and gratitude to God for the people I was standing with. Whether it was the two already a little ahead of us, or the two I still had with me, I was drowning in a love deeper than any else I know here on Earth. I thank God that I am lucky enough to have known people touched by Him, who were raised picking tobacco, attending church, and fishing when the days saw fit.
Leaving Sam and Ozella, we went back into town to see my nana's sister, Lou Anne. Passing away in 1995, we unfortunately never had the chance to meet, but we've become acquainted through the times when she's mentioned. As my nana says, I think Lou Anne and I would've gotten along just fine. I've come to learn that we share a love for books, all things Sci-Fi, and a headstrong mindset that all of us Fletcher women seem to have from birth. My Aunt Lou Anne and my nana were born 2 years apart, and though Lou Anne never had any kids of her own, she loved my mama and uncle like they were hers. One of the things I liked most from seeing Lou Anne was when I bent down to wipe dirt off of her slab. With my knees on the stone, I said aloud, "I know I'm not really supposed to be touching this, I'm sorry." But my nana caught my eyes, and she smiled. "No, it's okay. She wouldn't have minded. She wouldn't have cared if you danced all over her. She would've gotten up and danced with you."
After we placed the flowers between Lou Anne and her husband, I made the decision that I wanted to hear the full story of how she passed away. At only 43, Lou Anne had gone into the hospital for some tests, and hadn't come back. Standing next to them both, I listened as my nana walked through painful memories, remembering how she was woken in the middle of the night by a phone call from her brother-in-law. How she got dressed, how they didn't make it to the hospital in time, and how she had to tell her mama, in tears, the next morning what had happened. I was sick with agony for her, and I wished I could change it. Yet I was also glad that now I get to share in the memory with her. That even though it happened three years before I made my announcement to the world, I could carry my nana's little Lucy Locket- as she called her- in my heart too.
From there, we left to make our last stop at the Lawrence Cemetery, the home of my nana's parents and extended family. On the way there, we laughed with memories of my Grandma Junetta, the lady who they called "Shorty" because she only reached to be 4' 11". The lady who, at 65, had a swimming pool built because she had taken swimming lessons, and who at 70, considered having a ballroom built because she had taken dancing lessons. She was the lady who my mama had loved with all her heart, from the top of her head, to the bottom of her toes. The lady who had bought my mama and Uncle Wade ice cream cones before sending them home every day. The lady who had survived a double knee replacement, pottery making, a favoritism for little pigs, and five kids, plus too many grandchildren to count. When I saw where she was, I was caught in the memories, the ones that hadn't originally been mine, but were now. I picked up the stone ornaments around her and cleaned the dirt from underneath. I listened to the things my nana and papa said and reveled in them.
Soon, we were finished, and we got back in the car to come home. But I couldn't shake myself from thinking and cataloging everything I could because I didn't want to forget them. I didn't want to forget where the husband and wife lived who raised the little boy I call my papa, or the ladies who had such a hand in making my nana the spit fire she is.
Days later, I wonder about them, still like I have so many times before. I think I most want to know what they're like, and how they feel about me. I want the chance to make them laugh, and to spend holidays together. At the same time though, I know I've got something special of my own. I have a nana and papa more special to me that the moon and the stars, and a nana and papa who love me even more than that.
My nana has always told me that my Grandma Junetta's favorite hymn was "Count Your Blessings." No more do I understand that choice than these past couple of days. DO count your blessings- every last one- because there are so, so many. I am reminded of that every time I drop by my grandparents' house for lunch and see my papa mowing grass outside, every time my nana takes me to get pedicures, and most often every time I think of how blessed I am to be me. Because I have a mix of all of them in me, right this moment. And it is such an amazing feeling.