When the Journey Ends

When I was sixteen, I bought and quickly wrecked my first car. My grandfather, a fellow car guy himself, found the sky blue 1969 Chevy Nova for me and it was the best thing I had ever owned.images

With the radio up, and windows down, I was crossing US 68 and peeled out on some gravel and ran up on the median strip, sideswiping a road sign. I was devastated by the long dent running along the driver’s side door, but unhurt. I decided I couldn’t face my parents and let them see the evidence of my inexperience and just kept driving. I remembered my grandfather and his experience in repairing cars., and hoped he could erase the damage before my parents found out.

I drove to my grandparents house, but my grandfather was away for the day. My grandmother could see that I was upset about something and before I knew it, I was explaining the accident with the car and most surprisingly of all: Sobbing like a five year old. My grandmother, never known for being a hugger, did hug me that morning and convinced me, it would be all right. She reminded me that life can be difficult and unpredictable, but she reminded me as well that “this too shall pass”.

And she was right. It did pass and it was okay, and life kept going.

Scan 14Many years before and after, the good and the bad in life passed by my grandmother many times. Born in 1920 to hardscrabble Irish immigrants, my grandmother and her two sisters and two brothers grew up poor and endured the Great Depression and the death of her oldest brother Frank. That time passed too and times got better.

She would meet the love of her life, Stanley during her years at the town’s Catholic high school. Scan 10They later married and would be together for 62 years. They were only apart during my grandfather’s service in the U.S. Navy during the second World War. My grandmother would raise three children, the youngest my mother, without him during those lean and anxious years. That too passed and times got better. There were more children born, new houses, cars, and jobs. There were many good times.

Despite a growing extended family, my grandmother took night classes at the local college and became a realtor at age 60. She never made a fortune in real estate but she loved it and kept working until she was 87 years old. After raising five children and keeping house for decades, she enjoyed having a career and driving her boat-like Lincoln Continental to open houses and the occasional closing. Only later, when her office made it mandatory for all listings and work to be done on a computer, she knew it was time to stop, rather than make the leap. Growing older had not made life easier. I admired her ambition and strength then, but even more so now.

When she was 64, she decided not let her fear of flying or being far from home prevent her from seeing her parents’ native Ireland. She, along with her niece and her two children traveled on a two week pilgrimage. It was there, with the help of a kindly priest, she wept as she held the old book listing her father’s baptism in County Cork nearly a century earlier. As a teenager and completely on his own, my great grandfather left home, ending up in the rural American midwest working on farms and in a general store and starting a new a better life.

My grandmother’s trip abroad changed her perspective and would fill her with joy the rest of her days. She never grew tired retelling the stories of the land and people she discovered and how one woman upon meeting her said: “Ann, you are one of us”. The five pound Irish note she saved to give to me is framed and near my desk.

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My grandmother inspired me to be more brave and to travel myself. I took many trips after her own odyssey and she loved hearing about the places I had been since our last visit. She was amazed by my stories of Australia and my trips to Italy and Greece, and most recently to Asia. After a lifetime in the same small town, she was proud to be a fellow world traveler herself.

Even after living overseas, I never failed to send her a postcard and would often pick up a small souvenir for her when I returned home again. Her favorite gift was a pink rosary, blessed by the Pope, and the same one she used until she could no longer hold them. My grandmother, most of all, helped me to understand that life is a journey of both good and bad times and to accept either as both shall pass.

My grandmother died on Christmas day.

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