Dear Rachel –
I don’t know if you’re aware of it – I realize that there are a lot of people to meet and greet up there in heaven, and a hundred days is probably not enough to even familiarize yourself with the smallest portion of your new-found eternal family members – but my Aunt Mimi should have joined you late last week. Just the other day, cousins Dohn (yes, like ‘John’ but with a ‘D’ like his father Don – he got no end of grief from teachers insisting he’d spelled his own name wrong) and Coryell (who went by ‘Muffin’ as a kid, but I try to remember to call her ‘Cory’ these days) stopped by the house to say hello to the folks before Dohn had to head back home to Austin.
The four of them (and eventually, the five of us, as I joined them after a brief lunch) spent at least an hour together in the living room, talking about memories of Mimi, her husband Don – including boyhood and college-era tales from Dad, and stories of cooking and collections. On that latter subject, for instance, Uncle Don apparently had a weakness for Dalahästen that you might have appreciated. It seems that, in their attempts to clean out Aunt Mimi’s place, they just kept finding more and more boxes full of these traditional Swedish wooden horses.
There were stories of them tending to Mimi in her final days, and ultimately seeing her off, and how (among other things) she would sometimes mistake Dohn for Don in the throes of her dementia. I was reminded of how Jo would see a heartbreaking amount of Bill within you during your last few visits you took to see her.
Of course, you always were your daddy’s little girl, and might have taken it as a compliment, if it weren’t for the fact that your mom was insisting that she had just talked to your dad simply because she had just spoken to you about something.
Each of them (well, with the possible exception of Mom, as most of the stories she might tell could be told as easily by Dad) had their own stories of Mimi and Don to smile and laugh and sigh about. Some stories were corroborated by another of them, others corrected, but they would build upon each others’ tales in remembrance.
It occurred to me while I was sitting there that I don’t really have that luxury. You didn’t have any siblings to remember what you were like as a child – and of course, your parents left this earth beforehand (which is why we had those last eighteen, twenty months so close together). The rest of your extended family is quite distant, both literally and figuratively, leaving me almost no one to confer with about the person you were.
Even Daniel isn’t one to talk with about you right now, obsessed as he is with politics and what supposedly is about to happen once ‘the truth comes to light.’ I know I’ve marveled before at how I went from the most conservative in the house to the most liberal over the course of less than six months last year, without ever changing my own personal perspective, but it’s starting to get to be a bit much. I would just as soon set those current affairs aside and dwell on you and your impact on us, or escape that entirely with some mindless entertainment, but for now, he’s having none of that. I’m giving it the next two months, and hopefully by then, things will have calmed down. But still, that’s time in which memory continues to decay.
To be sure, I’m not entirely alone in regard with remembering you. Ellen will sometimes offer me a perspective on you and your motives that come as an occasional surprise, in fact. But for the most part, your memory rests entirely on my own – and upon whose reliability I find myself worrying about more and more as time goes by.
I mean, sure, as I keep trying frantically to write things down here as they occur to me, I’ve committed a lot of material to text. The thing is, I might be coloring you rather differently from who you really were – and there’s no one to keep me on the straight and narrow should I stray from the truth. Here an ear, there a tail, but do I ever realize I’m describing an elephant, to reference the old story? I could picture you as a saint or a slattern, and no one would would be the wiser which one was the real you. Although, to be fair, you had large dollops of both in your personality, and I think I’ve touched on each side as I examine your study notes and clear out the house respectively.
There are also the things we find that don’t seem to line up with anything I knew about you. Money stashed in the weirdest places – although maybe that’s a behavior your learned from your parents that I never really needed to know about. Comments in your study notes about being selfish and prideful… really? Stubborn, I might grant, but did you really think so poorly about yourself, honey?
And of course, there are the things I literally can’t write about, despite being perfectly obvious parts of married life. Perhaps one day, I’ll break down and complain about that limitation, and the fact that people have a problem talking about what’s perfectly natural, but I don’t think anyone besides me is ready for that. And again, I worry that I’ll lose that piece of you to my own unreliable and failing memory if I don’t get it written down soon – especially since, unlike many things I can recall about you, I can’t find anything much in the way of writings, pictures, or – heaven forbid – video of anything along those lines.
I really wish I’d taken more pictures, honey.
It isn’t if I worry that you would be forgotten and fade out in the afterlife, like in Coco or something:
I just don’t want to ‘remember’ you as something you weren’t.
But I’m painfully aware that, without anyone to bounce stories back and forth off of, those memories are going to wrinkle and fade around the edges, just like so much of your old writings. I want to remember you as you were, and while I suppose there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of idealization as memory polishes and glosses over the worst bits (please, help me not to lose the banal ones – those are still as precious as the special days, now that there will be no more of them, either), I don’t want to turn you into someone you weren’t.
I just want to make sure I remember. Because it’s all that’s left to me. And left (almost) exclusively to me, more’s the pity.