THINKING OF GRAM AND PAP
There’s a blank page starring at me, and I’m starting to feel nervous. It’s waiting to be filled with words of thanks or an anecdote about Thanksgivings past. This should be easy. I initially thought, but then something strange happened, I can’t seem to gather my thoughts without feeling a little melancholy. Listening to music at my desk (At The Gates, if you’re wondering), I remember the last Thanksgiving with my grandma, and how the whole family had dinner at our house that year. My Uncle Joe picked Grandma up from the nursing home, and everyone was excited to see her.
I was 16 and scared of death. Grandma wasn’t doing well, and my chest felt tight that day. I didn’t understand the insidious tortures of dementia, but we all talked to Grandma as if she remembered us, even though she didn’t respond other than nodding her head or shifting her gaze. My eyes are starting to feel wet.
Since I can remember, my family has made a tradition of going around the Thanksgiving table and saying what we’re thankful for. That year, we all included Grandma in our answers. It wasn’t long before Grandma was gone. Pap followed shortly after. He had Parkinson’s disease, and his mind was slowly slipping, but he still constantly asked where his wife was. I miss them, but I’m thankful for the time I had with them. My sister Karlee, who is 18 months younger than me, and I were recently talking about them and how we wished they were still around so we could get to know them better.
Pap was a tough-as-nails World War II veteran who quit school in eighth grade to help the family financially. His hands felt like cold concrete. He went on to build and manage several businesses, including a bar and restaurant named after his mother, Rose, that was a popular hangout amongst steel mill workers. My dad, who has worked in and around steel mills for most of his adult life, even frequented the Rose Hotel during its heyday and remembers my great-grandmother from there. Funny how the dots connect like that.
Grandma was the closet I’ll ever get to a holy saint. A mother of five, she went through hell raising all those children — including my mum, Mary, who’s named after her — at least that’s what my aunts and uncles say. Karlee and I were the babies of the family for a while, so Grandma always watched us. She was quiet and gentle. She taught us how to play Go Fish and always carried a bag of chocolate gold coins, which I thought were real for the longest time until one melted in my pocket. She’d read to us and let us run around the backyard up until “Days of Our Lives” started. Then we’d get to pick out candy — I’d go for a full-sized Snickers bar, while Karlee usually grabbed gumdrops, Pap’s favorite — and entertain ourselves.
“Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.” It feels like life happens that fast sometimes, but the memories remain. I smile.
My parents and sister are coming to Telluride for Thanksgiving this year. It’s been two years since Mum and Dad were out here. Karlee visits every three months or so, for the adventure, yoga and respite, mostly. I’m thankful for them. They’ve always supported me, even when I decided to pick up and move across the country to this place, sight unseen, three years ago for a job. It’s all worked out, and they’re happy for me, but we don’t see each other as often as we’d like.
There’s a full page in front of me now, but I’m still not satisfied. It’s really not about the word count, I tell myself, but what weight these words carry. Am I doing Gram and Pap justice? Will anybody even read this? Will my family think I’m being a sad sap, which has become a running joke, given my apathetic disposition? I’m a Sagittarius, so I blame the cosmos, but I’m more thankful than I let on for my family and friends who continually show me love. I need to remind them more often.
THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE — THANKSGIVING EDITION
1.What is your idea of perfect happiness? Summertime, Thanksgiving, pie
2. What is your greatest fear? Madmen with nuclear codes
3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Laziness
4.What is the trait you most deplore in others? Cruelty
5. Which living person do you most admire? Greta Thunberg
6. What is your greatest extravagance? A meal at The National with my family
7. What is your current state of mind? Grateful
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Temperance
9. On what occasion do you lie? When the truth isn’t necessary
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance? I strive for body acceptance, but I could stand to lose a few pounds. But Thanksgiving.
11. Which living person do you most despise? The current occupant in the White House
12. What is the quality you most like in a man? Intelligence, humor
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Intelligence, humor
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? For f---’s sake
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life? The Dearly Beloved aka my husband John, music
16. When and where were you happiest? At Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Sunrise Avenue, New Canaan, Connecticut, when I was a child, especially for Thanksgiving
17. Which talent would you most like to have? Musician
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’d be more disciplined
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Being a good friend
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A guitar played by a master
21. Where would you most like to live? In the San Juan Mountains
22. What is your most treasured possession? Lady Strat
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Imprisonment or sleep deprivation
24. What is your favorite occupation? Putting pen to paper
25. What is your most marked characteristic? Endless optimism
26. What do you most value in your friends? They make me laugh, being good listeners
27. Who are your favorite writers? E.B. White, T.C. Boyle, John Dunning, Shakespeare, Margaret Atwood … so many others
28. Who is your hero of fiction? Boo Radley, Hawkeye Pierce
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with? Rosie the Riveter
30. Who are your heroes in real life? Journalists, Doctors Without Borders, first responders, teachers
31. What are your favorite names? John, Tom, Jeff, Eleanor, Will, Sarah, Liam
32. What is it that you most dislike? Man’s cruelty to man, war, bigotry of any stripe
33. What is your greatest regret? To quote Mick Jagger, “The past is a great place and I don't want to erase it or to regret it, but I don't want to be its prisoner either.”
34. How would you like to die? I’d rather not
35. What is your motto? Be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, always do your best.
For weeks, it seems, Thanksgiving has been on the way, and not yet here.
A week ago, the Wilkinson Public Library held a community potluck to commemorate the day.
Today (Thursday), it hosts yet another Thanksgiving-related event.
And the holiday proper doesn’t arrive for another week.
When that finally occurs, I won’t even get to enjoy all of it. For starters, I’ll be fully awake for about 18 hours of that 24 hour-period. And to be honest, I’ll be celebrating the event with friends for just three or four hours that night.
All that buildup for about four hours’ worth of celebration until “Thanksgiving Day” comes around next year.
Yet of course, Thanksgiving is more than 24 hours; it’s the spirit that counts. And as I pulled my car out of Montrose the other evening on my way back to Ridgway, I realized what I’m extremely grateful about.
It’s nothing so grand as freedom of speech or democracy. Of course, I’m appreciative of big ideas, but this particular spark was smaller, more immediate, and yet crucial to me, and for that matter, everyone else who traversed the highway I was about to navigate in deepening twilight.
I’m grateful for safe drivers.
U.S. Route 550 between Ridgway and Montrose is not only a busy corridor, this time of year it’s deadly: Each day, it seems, brings blood-spattered pavement, fresh evidence of yet another collision of a vehicle with local wildlife.
There were 138 automobile collisions with wildlife in Montrose County last year, according to CDOT, and 33 in Ouray County (Route 550 traverses both counties between Montrose and Ridgway). And these are just the accidents that are reported. Not all drivers wait for a state patrolman to arrive after they clip a deer.
Not all animals stagger to the (highly visible) side of the road and die. Many wander further off and are never found.
Deer and elk are migrating this time of year. Wildlife fencing has helped to keep some of these animals, and human drivers, safe. I’m hopeful that eventually, our part of the state will enjoy the dramatic successes of the Highway 9 Project, a series of wildlife overpasses, underpasses and pedestrian walk-throughs on a stretch of road between Green Mountain Reservoir and Kremmling. The wildlife proofing (and rerouting) has resulted in a 90 percent reduction in collisions between animals and cars. A local entrepreneur stepped in to help turn that project into a reality. There are residents in our region that would be most interested in helping to finance something similar, I feel certain, if such a plan were proposed here.
In the meantime, all we can do is hang on, try not to drive at dusk in winter, and if we must, slow down and be considerate of other cars and the animals that have no choice but to traverse these roads as well.
Which brings me to what I witnessed the other night.
I drive a conservative 50 mph after the sun sets, and the other evening, exactly two cars passed me between Trout Road, on Highway 550 south of Montrose, and the stoplight in Ridgway. Everyone else stayed behind. I counted at least a dozen sets of headlights twinkling behind me.
As for the cars coming toward me, I was stunned to see many lower their headlights (an act of courtesy, and caution, too few drivers bother with any more).
Sure, we were all acting out of self-interest; none of us wanted to hit an animal, mostly because we didn’t want to injure ourselves or our cars. I get that. But such defensive caution of the human herd helped keep everybody safe.
It amounted to a collective act of kindness, and I gave thanks once I arrived home: No banged-up car, no dead deer, no hospital visits. Then I realized I was lucky to be alive to give thanks. And I was grateful for that, too.