Two weeks ago—April 26th, specifically—was the anniversary of my granny’s death. For that that reason and others that will become obvious as you read, this post is dedicated to her.
Because I was the oldest child in my family and I played softball, basketball, campus bowl, and track, I spent a lot of my pre-driving years with my granny. She worked in town, so most days she drove me to early mornings, then picked me up when afternoon practice got out. I had two options when I was riding with Granny to and from school: I could listen to her talk about my books, my hair, my clothes, my friends, my parents’friends—she had an opinion about everything that existed and some things that didn’t—or we could listen to music.
My granny loved music. Bluegrass, hymns, old country, Charlie Pride, Andy Griffith. Music spoke to her—she told me so once after I sang a special at church, that music touched her when preaching couldn’t, it told her about Heaven and what it would be like to be loved and safe. This was something we had in common.
Some kids hate their parents’ and grandparents’ music. I loved it. Especially this one group—the Kingston Trio. They were so funny and smart. “To Morrow” was my favorite of their songs. (If you’ve got time, you should definitely check it out. You’ll need two or three listens.)
Being just a dumb kid without any concept of context or history, I assumed that music like the Kingston Trio was par for the old-people-course. More recently, when I finally found all of Granny’s old tapes and dug some Kingston Trio music out of the internet, I learned differently. The band became popular on the college scene because of the way they made fun of bureaucracy, questioned authority, and because of their sincere desire to see change in capitalist America. Adults at the time hated them.
When I was a child, I couldn’t appreciate why Granny was the only person I knew who had even heard of the Kingston Trio. I’ve grown up a lot since she died. I’ve lived places besides Emden, listened to music that you would never hear in Missouri, stuff people around here would think was blasphemy or communism, one. (Communism being the least forgivable.) Now I can appreciate that my granny was listening to rebel music.
When I was a kid, all Granny was to me was the person I pushed away from, somebody to be different from and sometimes to argue with just because I wanted her to be wrong. It’s been until I’ve gotten older that I started to see the full picture. Granny had an opinion about everything and no fear of telling people what it was in a time when good women didn’t. She and my grandpa couldn’t have children—another strike against her—so they adopted. When a teacher told one of Granny’s children that he couldn’t make a family tree because he was adopted, Granny called that teacher up and told her we were all children of God and that made us all adopted, thank you very much. When the preacher told her that she couldn’t teach Sunday school anymore because she didn’t wear skirts all the time, Granny told him she’d like to see him climbing over fences and chasing cows in a skirt. She was first person I’d ever known who stopped going to church because she didn’t believe in the way that the pastor was preaching the Word. She understood that there was a difference between questioning the authority of the ordained man and the authority of God.
Granny was our family’s—probably our entire rural community’s—original dissenter. I wish I’d gotten more time to get to know that side of her better. People like her, people who didn’t let labels or expectations define them, paved the way for people like us the same way the Kingston Trio paved the way for bands like the Mountain Goats.
Or, “The Annual February Progress Report”
This year, I decided to teach myself to skateboard.
For those of you keeping track at home, this is my third New Year’s resolution since starting this blog. The difference between those other resolutions and this one is that, this time, I’m going to accomplish my goal. No more half-finished classy as balls for me. This year, all the stars have aligned—I have access to non-interstate asphalt, I have a place to practice when the weather’s bad, my youngest son got a retro dart for Christmas, and I’m finally, finally, FINALLY coordinated enough not to kill myself.
Yessiree, 2013 is the year of skateboard.
The thing is, almost no one is taking me seriously. I realize there are some ridiculous elements to a stay-at-home mother of two learning how to skateboard and that most of those elements are in the way I phrased this sentence. But I’m already making respectable progress. I know how to shift my weight to weave around something, how to make a very, very wide turn, how to go up and down small hills without falling off or sliding backward, and I’m working on sudden sharp turns.
Since most of my detractors have the same “concerns,” I’ll be addressing them in this handy FAQ.
“Yes, skateboarding is a skill, but what will you do with it once you learn?”
Well, not become a professional skateboarder, that’s for sure. I’ve got a busy year ahead of me. In case you haven’t heard yet, I’m turning 26 tomorrow at 6:19 a.m. and that’s kind of a big deal. What with making Halo (How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town, for you non-inside-my-headers) a best-seller, finishing Halo II, spanking my kids, getting snakebite piercings, and spending as much of this this summer in the water as possible, I don’t have the kind of time it would take to find out how somebody becomes a professional skateboarder and then become one.
“Why waste your time learning, then?”
Because I’ve always wanted to know how to skateboard. My whole life I’ve thought, “That looks like so much fun! And it’s so cool.” And guess what? I was right. Skateboarding is fun and cool.
There’s also this brilliant article I read a few months ago called, “6 Harsh Truths that Will Make You a Better Person.” If you need motivation to do anything at all, you should read it. It will also help answer the question, “Why bother?”
“But if you’re not going to use skateboarding for anything—”
I’m going to use it for being awesome and having fun. What other anything is there?
It’s been about six months since I went to a visitation for one of my high school classmates. I’ve had lots of time to think over the experience, to try to understand it, and I think I’m starting to get a tenuous grasp on what happened and why it was so important to me.
I never felt like I belonged in high school. I wasn’t funny, pretty, or good at any sport. I was painfully awkward, the wrong kind of smart, and I looked and sounded kind of like a guy. High school for me was this ongoing fight to keep everyone else from realizing that I knew I had come to the wrong party.
So when I graduated, I didn’t look back. I did the college-on-the-coast thing and barely ever talked to anyone I used to know, even my best friends. I built my life—got married, bought a house, had two-point-five kids. I was far enough removed from everything high school that when Nick died, I heard about it from my sister, who spent more time around people from my class than I did. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t really even comprehend losing someone from the part of my life I cut off.
Driving to Shelbina for the visitation, I was nervous. I called my sister to see what she was wearing. I went back home and changed, then wondered whether I should go back and change again. When I finally got to the funeral home, I parked as far away as possible. I felt like I shouldn’t be there, that I didn’t deserve to be sad about Nick’s death. I had this irrational fear that my classmates would take one look at me and think, “What a poser. She hasn’t even talked to Nick since we graduated. Like she even cares.”
I tried to hide in plain sight the way I always had in high school. Be quiet, act natural. Pretend like you don’t know that you shouldn’t be here.
Then a strange thing happened while I was in the viewing line. Nick’s mom hugged me. She remembered my name. She knew I had two little boys. She said I had grown up into a beautiful woman. That shattered me. In the middle of all her loss and pain, she let me know I wasn’t unwanted.
An even stranger thing happened when I got to the crowd of my classmates beside the casket. They talked to me. It was as if we’d just seen each other a few days ago. We cried together, but then we laughed. Because this was Nick. He was the great equalizer of our class. There were weird kids and cool kids, jocks and band nerds—all of the usual high school designations—but Nick got along with pretty much everyone. While he was alive, he made us all laugh, sometimes until we cried or shot milk out of our nose. After he died, he made us laugh while we cried. As Cody put it, “I cried when I first found out, but all the way here, I kept remembering the good times we had and I couldn’t stop laughing.”
We stood up by the casket and remembered Nick-escapades. I thought about the freezing cold night at a football game when he pointed to where his marching band hat should’ve been and said, “Hat. Ha, ha. Get it? Because there’s not one.” Of Nick putting his plume in Vinnie’s sousaphone. The day he kept making up new sayings like, “We’re so good, if we were ice cream, no one would be able to stop eating us” and “We’re so tight, if we were clothes, no one could wear us.” The time in Fiber Optic Spanish when our teacher swore there weren’t any redheads with brown eyes and Nick got up in front of the camera and had us zoom in until she could see his eyes. The continuous stream of “dam” jokes he made as we crossed the dam on the way to Branson for our senior trip.
As we reminisced, I realized why this experience was so Nick. High school was unbearable, and probably everyone in my class felt at one time or another as if they shouldn’t be there, but Nick could make us laugh so hard that we forgot about our crushing inadequacies for long enough to feel like they didn’t matter.
On the way home, I turned the radio on and a song by REO Speedwagon was playing. Nick was the one who told me who the band was and what an REO speedwagon was. I turned it up and rolled down my windows and sang along and thanked Nick for everything he’d been to me and to my classmates. It hurts to say goodbye, but, well, you know.