Are We There Yet?
February 18-24, 2019
By Jay Edwards
But what has been will be —
First memory, then oblivion’s swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
Whose story no one knows.
‘The To-be forgotten’, Thomas Hardy
From 1958 to 1995 my grandparents lived together at 1208 Hunter Street, which is the second street just north of the Hendrix College campus in Conway, where my grandfather was president from 1945 until 1958. His last year with us was also in 1995 and he spent his last months in a bedroom in that house, but I usually think of him in the other bedroom, where his large cherry chest of drawers was and the big heavy bed made of dark wood, my memory of it probably bigger than it really was.
As a boy I used to stand at the chest next to my grandfather while he stood at his dresser. One time I saw he had a pocketknife and I asked him about it, if he thought he might ever give it to me some day. I remember he laughed and said he would. He kept his promise and I still have it, that Case Small Stockman, my first of a small collection.
My grandfather, Matt, laughed less as I got older, but my grandmother, Alice, or Ah-e, never stopped, even when she was frail and near the end of what would be nearly a century of life. She would lie in the small bed near the doorway of her bedroom and giggle at herself for wearing underwear on her head because it was cold. My mother just rolled her eyes and laughed too and asked her how she was keeping the other end warm.
My grandmother’s bathroom was a large, pink tiled room, with a little pink sink under the small window that looked out into their front yard. The minimal sunlight always gave the bathroom a pink haziness, that later reminded me of the old Hong Kong Chinese restaurant. It was an L-shaped room, with a dressing table and across from that, the tub … more pink.
When we lived in Sioux City and visited, I would sleep in my grandfather’s room. I remember waking up to the sun reflecting off the bush with the long eye-shaped leaves, where Redbirds gathered in spring and summer. It always felt good waking up in that bed, even though it wasn’t my own.
They have died just once, my grandparents, but their “second deaths” come closer each day, just as they do for all. I fight off that last memory for them both with these dimming thoughts of their lives, which will only last another generation, two at the most, when notions of them will not come again, no memory spurred by an old man with a pocketknife or a pink bathroom.
I don’t know where we all slept when we descended on them, from those faraway places like Illinois and Iowa. There were five of us who came, and two beds in the house that I recall, but maybe the couch in the den was used. That long green couch where my mother would make us sit during those later adolescent years after we’d moved back to North Little Rock and try and think of things to say to keep a conversation moving, until the stay had been considered long enough, our duty and respect accomplished once again.
The visit over, they would walk us out to the car, and stand waving as we drove away, down to the end of Hunter Street. In later years they stopped coming outside when we left, remaining at the door, the goodbye waves only lasting to the end of the driveway.
I still remember.