I am learning how to do Edinboro.
Please understand that Edinboro, Pa. is a rather special place for my family and I. I myself have 48 years of memories here, of some of the happiest times I ever knew. But in 1986, when my Grandpa died, Edinboro changed for everyone because his widow, my dear Granny G, made it her home, which it was from then until she died in May 2016.
So I no longer come here to visit my Granny G (except in spirit of course, which I will discuss in a bit). So this place which once held my childhood wonder with elements such as The Penny Candy Store, bike rides, sandy flip-flops, canoe excursions, and the like, is now… well…
Radiolab recently ran a story about a woman with an odd neurological condition she first noticed when she was a child. From time to time, her sense of place shifted by about 45 degrees. So for her, when this happened, nothing seemed to be in the right place. Wait, let me see if I can find it for ya.
So it feels kind of like that.
Now my theory has been that you leave Rochester Friday night after your shift. But I tried this last night, and it was no fun. First the snow made the road feel like a pool full of ball bearings. So I chickened out and left the thruway at the next exit. And promptly was met with completely stopped traffic.
I do not do well in stopped traffic.
It cleared, and then my GPS got me lost by mistaking Avenue for Road.
I finally got home and had cancelled this trip in my head before I slept. But I woke up this morning and was gung-ho.
Via this, I have concluded the move is to get home from work, go to bed, then get up early and beat feet.
So anyway, I am here, in our quiet lake house. I have some writing to do (Zappadan, don’tcha know). And I brought laundry. And I had a nice lunch and did some antique looking. Picked up some toiletries I had forgotten at the CVS.
Then I went to see the other piece of real estate my family owns here.
I told my Granny G about President-Elect Trump.
I told her I was sorry.
I told her we had tried.
It did not have the necromancing quality I had expected. She did not come to life and claw her way up to demand answers.
I really sort of expected her to. I mean, I even told her Trump had talked to Taiwan.
What a nitwit.
Anyway. Look out, folks. Zappadan is coming!
My Grandma G laughed a certain laugh, one without abandon and with her whole entire body, not at jokes or at funny or ironic situations, but when she was excited for you and your good news, or when she was excited to see you.
It was a laugh unique to her and I never realized while she was living how generous it was. She gave me that laugh again while she was on her second-to-last bed with a mask strapped to her face offering her body 100 percent oxygen, which her body was likely using only a fraction thereof, due to her heart not working much at all at the time.
It was about the new apartment. I had not yet moved in but the move was finally on the calendar. And she wanted every shred of news she could get out of me. And we talked about the new apartment, and she gave me that laugh and told me how excited she was about it.
I think the oxygen, while it was not actually contributing to her respiration, I think it was somehow energizing her. The nurses had to remind her not to talk too much, not to get too excited, because, you know, all that stuff uses more oxygen.
That was the last time I saw her fully cognizant. The last time, and she gave me that generous, excited-for-you laugh. I am at her house tonight, and when I walked through the door, I heard that laugh, though now only in my head.
But I heard it. I reckon I always will. I just wish I’d recognized it for what it was when she was here. That woman had pure joy for everyone in her life and was so excited about good news from them that it made her laugh better than she laughed about anything else.
Gosh she was something.
For maybe decades, this languished in my Grandmother’s basement somewhere. She had long ago lost interest in her victorla, I reckon (she used to have one, I remember this, but she’d long disposed of it I think). I am listening to it tonight and it is pretty great. It’s no Illinois Jaquet, but it’s pretty excellent. Maybe some historical interest in it too, as it is a tribute, released posthumously I assume. I had a conversation with her when we visited her on her birthday a month before she died. I asked her what it was like when Glenn Miller died. It was awful, she said. They had no idea what had happened to him for a long time (Miller died in a downed aeroplane returning from a campaign of entertaiing our troops). I was trying to imagie the scope of the death of such a valued figure in popular culture, because Prince had just died, and I was trying to explain his import to me and to relate to something equivalent she had experienced in her life. Anyway, so it’s appropriate that I have absconded with this fine Miller tribute. It plays fine. P.S. Vinyl is still worth the real estate.
In a few weeks, I’m going to get in my car and drive for three hours to the best place I’ve ever known, and one of the big reasons I’m going there is to sit on a new bench.
In our own Star’s Hollow, known as Edinboro, there are benches available as memorial tributes. Ours will read: “Barney and Arla Gwynn. Home at the lake forever.”
The bench will reside beside a childrens’ playground that is just across the street from her house, where she spent countless hours watching the little rascals swing and slide and scream. The tribute will now provide parents a place to take a load off while they’re watching their little rascals swing and slide and scream. It’s perfect.
What I’m learning following her death is that when somebody as vital to you as she was to me dies, you start learning more about them. I had never truly considered, for example, that when I, her only grandson, was born, she was 44 years old. And that when her husband died, she was 62. Which means she lived in the widows’ weeds for 30 years. Nearly a third of her life.
I think of this not to be maudlin, but because it leads me to understand her better. During her life, I could never understand why she insisted on traveling to Florida every year, or why she stayed in Edinboro, or why she never got rid of anything. It was because she was still leading the life that she and her husband led. I think my Grandma was forever motivated by the life she led with her Barney. I think she did many things because that’s what they used to do.
My Grandma G was born April 25, 1924, and she stopped refusing to die on May 26, 2016, at 92.
I have been spending ever since trying to write about her here. She was probably my most loyal reader, after all, and she would be upset not to find her passing noted in this space.
I first started writing about it by scouring the obit. It was all I could do. I hadn’t lived it long enough yet. And so for months, I’ve been working on one long piece here about Arla May Gwynn.
But I’ll never get that finished. Because, honestly, and I am somewhat surprised by this, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever finish mourning her. So. Stories will come. I will need to write them down.
Arla G isn’t just one entry. She’s a category.
One that will probably be heavily used next week. Thank you for listening.