Josie had a sweet smile and comforting presence. The remains of a southern drawl lingered in her words, not quite extinguished by all her years living here. She was the best listener I’d ever met, and had a way of encouraging you to share your deepest truths with just a tilt of her head and an accepting look in her eyes. But even better than that were her stories! They were mostly simple and plain, but she wove magic into each one with her excitement and general thrill for life.
My favorites were when she would tell me stories of her childhood. She had one of those lucky television families, you know, where they sat down for dinner together every night and said I love you regularly. I bet even Norman Rockwell couldn’t capture the pure sweetness of their domestic bliss, or at least that’s how it sounded to me. She’d fill me up with tales of holiday dinners and birthday parties and picnics and road trips until I was fat and happy. Glowing off of someone else’s coals to stay warm inside. The hard part came later, when I was alone and all of her memories had burnt out and I was left missing something that was never mine. It was a cold, empty feeling; so hollow and lost that I could hear my own heart breaking from the loneliness.
We didn’t take family vacations when I was growing up, except for that one time we went to the beach on accident. But that was when I was quite young, before we were broken, split in half and switching places every other holiday. So I would sit back and let her soft, warm voice wash over me with stories of happiness and joy that I had never known. I guess I should be ashamed to say, but sometimes I imagined myself climbing into the station wagon behind her: a stuffed animal tucked under my arm and a small backpack slung over the other. Knobby knees, cut-off shorts and bare feet while her mother chided us and tossed our sneakers into the car. Hell, I even knew the scent of her uncle’s kitchen from her memories alone, and could hear the soft rustle of the maple tree that shaded the tire swing at her cousin’s house.
She told me about what family vacations mean for children, especially when you visit relatives. "When you’re a child," she would say, "the world is just so…BIG and unknown. And here you are, packing up the car and driving off before the sun rises. You drive all day long and then into the night until it’s way past your bedtime and you wonder if you’ve crossed the entire map already. And you know what you find, when that car finally stops and you’ve got to where you were going? More people that love you. I always thought that was so special because it makes the world seem smaller and safer. Makes it all so welcoming. How wonderful is that, to drive farther then you could imagine and still find people who love you waiting at the other end! And if you take enough trips like that, you start to wonder if that’s what you’ll find wherever you go. That’s so important to know as a child! That no matter where you go on this earth or what you do, you are loved."
I wonder how that must have felt, the security of that type of acceptance, and how it affected the core of a person. It was like she had this big, ornate chest full of photographs and memories and traditions, and all I had were some baseball cards and stale bubblegum inside a beat-up cigar box. I don’t know why we can’t all have what she did. Don’t know why some of us went to bed hungry or dirty or just can’t remember really good hugs. I tell you, I teared up a bit when I met her mother. I’m not ashamed of that one bit.
Created: Dec 05, 2010ajt Document Media