On Friday Grayson and I took a trek with my mother to Highland, Indiana. The home of our kin. The home of the Swedes and English who migrated to America so many years before and found hope in the steel mills of East Chicago. The home of Jim and Ila (my maternal grandparents) who found a home on 38th street where Grandpa worked as a milkman. Grandma shared the neighborhood with, at different times but often overlapping, four of her sisters.
Mi madre and I have cousins in Highland now. And so we spent our three-and-a-half hours in the car on U.S. 30. When Grayson asked whether we were going to Texas again, which is "far, far away" we reminded him that it was a long car-ride, we knew, but not too long. We tried to teach him how to say "Pat" (the cousin we were visiting), we listened to a LOT of Mitch Miller singing "Dinah Won't You Blow" (Grayson's favorite song), we told him stories of his great-grandparents, we made many pitstops at fast-food restaurants for potty-breaks (and saw a pseudo-nun, but that's another story for those who like their humor crass).
Before our lunch with our kin, though, we had an important sojourn to make. We made our way, like pilgrims of ancient Christianity, to the Soderstrom headstone in the Calumet Park Cemetery. We came armed with gardening tools, implements of weed destruction and went to work at clearing away the headstones of my grandparents. Grayson was confused, asking often about whether we were in Texas, and when we were going home. We told him that we were here to remember people we loved. People whose names began with an "S," which we pointed to on the headstone. People who loved him.
And as we donned our gardening gloves, and our trowels, Mom and I kneeled near these headstones of the two we found dearer that most others in this world. As we plunged our trowel and kitchen knife and utility scissors in the weeds around the stones for James L. and Lucille I. Soderstrom, Grayson danced. He danced and pranced and jumped atop their graves. And we told him stories--stories about the way Grandma made cookies and Grandpa wound clocks and how much they would have delighted in him, and how were it not for them he would not exist.
Grayson picked up the reddest leaves of the sunset maple which had shed near their graves. He placed one on each headstone with our prompting, and mom and I hugged one another in the bitter wind, and I remembered how cold it was on those days in both October of 1996 and January 0f 2005 when we left their bodies in the barren ground.
The infamous Church of the Brethren group Kindling, that group of proud Brethren rebels who speak truth and teach me still in their words, and specifically the lyricist Lee Krahenbuhl, speak of the power of legacy. Lee's words say, "All that remains is the love bravely expressed..."
My grandparents expressed their love in countless ways and I am humbled.
I will never stop missing them. I will never stop missing the joy that radiated from them when I awoke in the morning and made my clumsy way down the steps, the steps Grandpa constructed in their home by the railroad tracks. The way they said, "It's Christen! Good Morning! Come have some breakfast!" I wasn't sure I'd ever hear that kind of joy in a voice again, until I heard my son call, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" when he saw my face fresh in the morning through the slats of his crib.
All that remains is the love. And I will express it as well as I am able. For how can there be more in this realm, but to bravely express what has been given, and what we are called to pass on. And if that is all there is, who's to say it isn't enough.