Sunday, April 12, 2009

State Memories Project: Iowa

My grandfather (dad’s dad) died on April 12, 1987, when I was a junior in high school. (It's an alphabetical coincidence that I post this on the anniversary of his death. I still miss you,'d be 100 this year, and I wish you were still around.) The family took a week away from school to head out for the funeral, driving up to get my brother in Fort Collins before zipping across Nebraska, going as quickly as we could. My brother, kid sister, and me were cooped together for the trip; my big sister headed down from Ann Arbor to meet us in Streator, Illinois, Dad’s birthplace, where Grandpa has rested in peace ever since, waiting for Grandma to join him.

The first day, as we zipped across Colorado and Nebraska, the five of us had fun together, cracking wise and screwing around as we pretty well always do. We drove all the way to Des Moines and crashed at the Holiday Inn.

That morning in the Holiday Inn restaurant, the mood pivoted instantly. Over my French toast, we suddenly re-became aware of what we were about to do.

I remember my dad sitting down and sighing heavily.

“I am not looking forward to this,” he said. I think a lump came to my throat. Not sadness, but surprise at the way the family mood turned on the dime of my dad’s sigh. The "this" in my dad's sentence had nothing to do with burying Grandpa, who had probably fought too hard and too long against his cancer. He did make it five years past his diagnosis of 6 months to 2 years to live, but never let go, and hearing my dad describe how violently Grandpa fought his last minutes was awful. No, the "this" was the wake, the visitation, the talking to everybody from Streator he hadn’t thought about in years, the handling of his mom through the whole thing.

At 16, I think I got all of that, but the next sentence clinched it:

“Just burn my bones when I die. I don’t want any of this.”

I’ve been through Iowa on many trips, and even to Iowa as a destination at least twice. But something about the way my dad sighed in that hotel restaurant that morning, and urged us not to put ourselves through that when his time came—the way he was thinking of us even on what would be a horrible day for all of us, but especially for him—has stuck with me more than any other Iowa memory.

What do y'all have for Iowa?


Anonymous said...

I also have been thinking of your Grandfather (my Dad) on this day, the aniversary of his death. I remember hearing once that the Japanese say that your relationship with a loved one does not end with their death. It just enters a new phase. I have found that to be true. I think of Dad often. Since we no longer have an ongoing relationship I spend more time reviewing the one that we did have. It is especially helpful to now be the age that he was when I was the age of my adult children and to see that relationship through the perspective that he once had. I gain more respect for the way he handled being the parent of older children and find my own behavior influenced by those memories.

GlobeTrottingCyberParanoid said...

When I was in college, the speech team was driving through Iowa in the middle of a freezing winter night on the way to a tournament. The minivan we were in died on a lonely state road in the middle of nowhere.

This was before the days of cell phones. We were about 10 miles from the nearest town, and it was dangerously cold outside. Walking for help was not an option. We turned on the emergency flashers, put on all the extra layers we had, and all crowded into the back seat. I thought we could make it through the night without freezing, but we were scared.

After what seemed like forever, a Camaro pulled over and a kid - barely 16 - got out. Once he understood the situation, he said he would go get a friend with a van so he could get all of us to a hotel. Shortly thereafter, he showed up with his friend and a van and got us all to a hotel.

Really early the next morning, Camaro Driver kindly picked me up at the hotel and took me to get a rental car one town over, and the team made it to the tournament on time. On the way, he told me his friend with the van had gotten in serious trouble for going out after curfew and then lying about it - his parents apparently hadn't bought the story about the stranded college kids.

On our way back from the tournament, we stopped in that tiny little town, and I went to see Van Driver with a thank-you gift the team had picked up. In front of his stunned parents, I gave him the gift, thanking him profusely for coming out in the middle of the night to help us. His dad almost cried.

Those were good kids. Both of them got in trouble for helping us, but neither of them thought twice about it. Maybe they should have woken up their parents at the time, but judgment isn't perfect when you're 16. The decision to help, even if it meant getting in trouble, was an admirable one nonetheless.

I don't think this would have turned out the same way if we'd been in some other parts of the country - that's one of the things I love about the Midwest.