I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. What I do remember comes back in blurry bits and pieces so that sometimes I don’t even know if it’s a real memory or just a story someone has told me. So, recalling things from my childhood is a bit odd for me. There are a few things, however. A few things that I remember clearly, as if they happened yesterday. These tend to be my most or least favorite memories. I would like to share with you one of my favorite memories from my childhood. It is a memory that was repeated several times, at least once a year for quite a few years.
My family is from a small, sleepy town in Kentucky. They are close enough to some of the bigger cities that we always had something fun to do that was just a short trip away. But the town in which my grandmother, and many more family members, were born is the quintessential small southern town. It’s arguably one of my favorite places on Earth. As a child, we would head south every year, usually more than once, and spend several days.
I would look forward to it for weeks. The open air, the rolling hills, the southern home-cooking, and Ale-8 (if you’ve never had it, you are seriously missing out!) My brother, my dad, and I, and any number of my cousins or other family, would pile into the car and off we would go. By the time I was 16, and able to help drive, I could probably drive that route in my sleep. We always had tons of CDs (we tended to prefer 80s hair bands) and we would sing and laugh our way south. There were specific places we always stopped for restroom or food breaks; and familiar landmarks along the trip we would look forward to to measure how many more miles we had to go.
The further south we went, the more beautiful the scenery. No matter the season, there was something to catch my eye. I believe I gained most of my appreciation for how spectacular nature around us can be on these trips. I always felt a sense of home when I started to see those rocky road side cliffs, with their indescribable patterns and colors. The wildflower patches amongst the groves of trees. I have traveled many places in this great country and am hard pressed to find anything more perfect.
We always stayed with the same member of my family. In that immediate area lived three very special ladies. My Aunt Gay, my Aunt Carrie and Ma Johnson. In typical family fashion, neither of these ladies was actually my aunt and Ma Johnson, one of the sweetest old ladies to have ever lived, wasn’t technically even related to me. Aunt Gay is my grandmother’s niece. Aunt Carrie was my great aunt. My grandmother’s sister. She was fiesty and funny. For as long as I can remember she was one of my favorite people.
The memory I treasure most is this: Every time we pulled into that driveway, there Aunt Carrie sat. Her walker next to her and her tiny, frail legs gently pushing the porch swing back and forth while her eyes were glued to the road. We would pull up and she was our first stop. I asked her one time how long she had been waiting and she just smiled. It was almost as if she had been sitting there since we had pulled away at the conclusion of our last visit. Never in my life have I felt that my presence was more anticipated than I did every time I turned the corner to see Aunt Carrie’s smiling face.
I remember the first time I pulled into that driveway after Aunt Carrie passed away. Before I could remind myself that things would be different, my eyes immediately went to that spot. The porch swing was swaying, but instead of my favorite lady pushing it, the wind played cruel tricks on my mind. The pain was unbearable. All of the air left my lungs in a whoosh and my heart broke all over again.
Some days I still miss her like crazy. I remember the funny things that she used to say and my heart longs to hear her say them again. I close my eyes and I can still see her sitting on that front porch, anxiously awaiting our arrival. I like to think that, where she is now, there is a front porch. There is a swing. And she is sitting there, enjoying the afternoon sun and the breeze. She’s swinging back and forth and her eyes are glued to the road, awaiting my arrival. And I believe that her eyes will light up and she will smile when she sees me coming.