This picture is what my radiologist/writer husband calls a 'hook.' It seems in concert though, with what will follow in my post, as it was an exchange between strangers, a Cape Cod fisherman and a mother and her little boy. This rugged 'man's man' was happily indulging a stranger's need - in this instance a need to smile shly and hug a cuddly dog.
After yesterday's post about Mother and our wandering through the hills of central Ohio in springtime to find the house my great-grandfather built and the cemetery where he and assorted ancestors rest, my mind is still meandering among the winding roads that fall sharply downward into shaded ravines and abruptly bank skyward requiring a firm pressure on the gas pedal as you climb up to next rise of uneroded glacial till.
Here's the memory that wandered in this morning. It was the early '50's. I think I was 5, maybe 6 years old. Grandpa Reiheld was at the wheel of a cranky old car that lurched and spewed gravel as we took a Sunday drive toward Glenmont to visit his cousins' families. While shifting into lower gears to get traction and still prevent stalling, the car would lunge backward and Grandma would grab the dashboard and suplicate the intervention of the blessed mother: "Hail Mary, Hail Mary!" I can still hear her, teeth clenched, ready to spring from the front seat in terror as the rest of us were sucked backward into the void. Grandma never learned to drive. She never learned to trust.
Then, the unthinkable. The car sputtered, grandpa cursed and the car stopped as he judiciously applied the emergency brake. Out of gas. The rest is a sad little blur except for this: I was terror- stricken, on a great graveled incline in a great wood, with two adults to whom today, we would apply the word 'dysfunctional' .
The crux of the story: A passing car stopped and offered assistance. One of the most tender memories of my childhood is the woman who saw my pain and stooped shelteringly beside me and reassured me that everything would be fine. Tears of gratitude sting my eyes as I write this and I rejoice in the goodness that lies at the heart of most human beings.
Decades later, when my other grandmother, Gladys, died, I tucked a note into the satin lining of her coffin that said simply: You were the gentlest, kindest light in my life. Your caring for us, the birthday cards that always arrived till the year you died - I will pass this on, Grandma - I will remember.
I've failed in so many ways to fulfill that promise. Yesterday, I made a few phone calls to the frail little women that I drive to a monthly macular degeneration meeting. We talked for hours. They think I'm kind. They tell me so. I try to tell them what they bring to my life, how I love their feisty, gentle souls. What is this miracle that resonates across time, distance, memory; between generations, strangers and friends? I hesitate to tell you that I know that it also resonates between brains - yes, I am refering to ESP. But, there, now you're probably rolling your eyes and I've lost the few readers who'd been drawn forward by the promise of a good dog story:0)