Currently, our bus is parked at a campground just North of San Francisco. I came here a couple of times as a child with my family, to see the sights and visit my grandfather who lived in Sacramento. In the cob-webbed cupboards of my mind, I’ve stored images of weaving down Lombard St. in a stuffy rental car; gazing, frightened and intrigued, at the fuzzy image of Alcatraz through the cheap lenses of pre-pay, mounted binoculars; and the towering majesty of centuries-old Redwoods standing as sentries along the rocky streams of Muir Woods.
But each memory is merely a silhouette, a deep outline but no details in the middle, until one moment stands out full and weighty with color, texture, and emotion.
That moment portrays a long haired child bending over a thorny, blossom-bursting yellow rose bush beside her grandfather. He is handsome, white hair reflecting off skin tanned by the suns of Hawaii and California over 60 plus years. His smile dazzles, roping my young heart like he lassoed so many others throughout the years (he left a trail of broken, wandering hearts behind him).
But not mine.
With the steady hand of a skilled gardener, he snips the stem of a budding flower at a precise angle. And he hands it to me. Placing my fingers to offset the thorns, I take it from him and tears trickle down my cheeks. We are leaving, and I don’t want to say good-bye.
When we got back to Ohio, when the petals began to wilt at their edges and hunch their shoulders, my mom pulled out the creaky ironing board from the laundry room, placed my tired rose upon it and entombed it between two sheets of wax paper. I kept it in my memory box, and every month or so, teetering on an old wooden chair, I’d pull it down from my closet shelf and finger it’s pressed profile.
Years later, my mom called me to tell me that my grandfather was dying. She asked me to fly out to Ohio to meet up with her and my dad then fly on to Sacramento to say farewell. But I couldn’t go. I wouldn’t go. I feigned some important obligation I simply couldn’t break. But really, I was afraid: afraid of flying, afraid of death, afraid of sadness, afraid that the frail old man lying in a bed dying of emphysema would erase what I remembered of him as a child.
But here I am now, driving the same highways he once did and gazing upon landscapes that provided the backdrop for his later years. And I wish I had a do-over. I wish I had folded fear into my bedside drawer, boarded that plane, and said a proper “good-bye” to my grandfather.
But I didn’t.
A couple days ago, I started out for a jog, turning out of our RV park and down a smooth sidewalk lining dated little houses along a quiet street. As my gaze swung to my left, I saw an elevated flower bed just ahead of me, lined with rose bushes, each a different color: red, orange, pink…and yellow.
I smiled, tears quivering along the rims of my eyes, and I thought:
I’m not afraid anymore.
When we return from our trip in about 6 weeks and when we have a home again with perhaps a little square of green and brown earth, I think I'll bend over a hole dug with the pink and blue spades of my four children. And I'll plant a bush that will bloom with yellow roses.
What about you? Do you have a good-bye that is long overdue?