The flashback was so strong, it was palpable.
The funeral was over; we three sisters and our husbands had walked with our mother’s casket to the front of church, sung songs, listened to a beautiful, touchingly personal homily, and cried together as we walked into the fittingly beautiful December sunshine.
Our sons stepped up to take our places at the casket, ready to assume their roles as pallbearers and accompany the casket to the top of the hill, where the freshly dug grave in the little country cemetery waited. Mom’s name and birth date were already engraved on the headstone, our stepfather had been buried next to the yawning hole for a little over a year now.
I concentrated all my attention on the straight, tall backs of my two sons, proud of their resolve to honor their grandmother, prouder yet of the tears unabashedly tracking their cheeks and the cheeks of their cousins. They loved her and she them, from day one. No question, unconditionally.
I don’t know why I hadn’t considered the eerie similarity of the scene before that moment, but it literally took my breath away. Forty-four years, shy by only two days, the roles had been reversed. I wondered if that occurred to Chris as he carried his grandmother; I’m still not sure if it has. It has somehow seemed a breach of sacred etiquette to ask him.
It was raining that December night in 1972 when I finally agreed to let John make our way to the hospital, still not convinced I was in labor. I’m not sure what I was expecting, trumpets, bells, a “sure sign” of some sort, or if I was simply too afraid to consider this was really it.
I was doing laundry at my parents’ house and John had come over after work. Busiest time of year for the food industry, and there were no short days or time off. He was late getting there, and noticed immediately that I wasn’t eating and kept looking at the clock. My dad was jumpy, and told me emphatically that if I wasn’t going to call the doctor, he was. “Oldest child, first grandchild. Nothing to fool around with, Vicki!” My dad’s voice left no doubt as to what needed to be done. And so we were on our way.
Not even three hours later, our first son, Christopher, was born. After we counted fingers and toes and marveled at our miracle, I sent John home to get some sleep before his very early wake up call for work the next morning. I was too excited to settle down, and at 3 a.m. the nurse asked if she could get me anything. Within reason, of course; there was no all-night hospital cafeteria service in those olden days. I chose a Dixie cup of chocolate ice cream with a little wooden spoon, and it was simultaneously delicious and soothing on my still recovering from strep throat gullet. I glanced out the window as I devoured the ice cream, and saw that it was snowing. Really snowing, as in being inside a snow globe snowing. And it didn’t stop snowing for longer than a few hours the entire three days we spent at the hospital.
Each time a visitor came in, there was stomping of snow and shaking of scarves and hats, accompanied by dire reports of “the weather out there.” Of course, I couldn’t wait to get home and begin our new family life, without having to wear a mask each time I held our son because of the past strep throat, with Christmas just around the corner, and our tree decorated with the hand-painted ornaments I had made those last few days of waiting for our son.
But the weather!
The day we were to be discharged, the sun knew its role. The sky was glaringly brilliant, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. But the snow was still there, deep and daunting. John couldn’t be there to take us home; I had already come to grips with that. My mother and the younger of my two sisters, who was off school for the day, were substituting as chauffeurs. Streets were mostly clear, but Dad had insisted I call the townhouse manager to make sure the sidewalks had been shoveled. “Just having a baby is hard enough; you don’t need to be trudging through snowdrifts on top of it.”
With the manager’s assurance that shoveling had been done, I bundled the baby suitably for an Arctic excursion and we traveled the few blocks to the townhouse. I was exhausted. Fresh air, fresh nerves, fresh baby. When I opened my eyes, we were there, and so were sidewalks covered in two feet of snow, with drifts that were even higher. The complex hadn’t been cleared.
The next thing I knew, my mother had covered her head with her customary scarf, and had grabbed the baby. “Of course, we’re going to get this child home,” she muttered aloud. And off we went, Mom leading the way and my sister packing the snow down behind her so it formed an easier path for me to walk. It was slow, and painstakingly cautious, but we did it.
And now, 44 years later, my son was returning the favor: slowly, cautiously carrying his grandmother home and once again easing the path I had to walk.