On Sausage Making and Resurrecting Family Traditions

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The ground meat on the dining room table looked more like a mountain.  Grandma had already added the spices, adding a sandy sheen. My mom, brother, and I washed our hands and then went to our respective places around the table.

I plunged my hands into the meat, my fingers shocked by its coldness. I squeezed meat and seasoning together, kneading for minutes that seemed like hours. The cold stiffened my knuckles but we could not stop until the task was complete.

This was Sausage Making Day.

 

I admit: sausage is unusual inspiration for a post but I hope you'll head over to A Deeper Family to read the rest.

Fun fact! The first part of this piece was originally inspired by a writing prompt at the Amahoro writing workshop. My table even nominated me to read it out loud to the whole group, which is why I returned to it, edited it, and added the second half. We never know what stories are waiting to be told, do we?


I Remember

Grandma1
You gave me your full attention, whether soup cooked on the stove or you were addressing the many letters you sent. You made time for your granddaughter. For everyone really. You fully gave of yourself and it is no wonder the church walls couldn't contain the number of people at your funeral.

You were a woman who loved. Deeply, richly, unconditionally.

I remember how your eyes lit up when you saw me and the strength of your embrace. But I can't remember the sound of your laugh or the way you said my name with such joy.

It's been 6 years since you left us. It's been 6 years of living without your love.

I wrote this during the Amahoro writing tract. "I remember" was the prompt and this flowed out in those few short minutes before I had time to think about why Grandma was so heavy on my heart. Yesterday marked the anniversary of her death and it is no wonder her memory has woven its way through my subconscious the last couple of weeks.


A Symbol of Grief, A Symbol of Hope

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One of my favorite pictures with Scottie. We were quite the pals when we were little!

 

Scottie died and I flailed, trying to make sense of the senseless.

We were 22 years old- he a mere 3 months older- when his heart stopped for reasons we'll never know. It used to be Jon-Scottie-Leigh in a cousin clump but now there was no Scottie with his artistic bent and sage wisdom. He measured his words, dispensing them when he felt he had something to contribute and we all learned to listen to this quiet young man.

His quiet demeanor left a larger hole than I knew possible.

The wake ran late and it must have been 8 o'clock before we headed to a steakhouse for dinner. My parents and brother sat with my aunt and uncle and cousin in one booth and I sat with Jon and Adam in a booth across from them.

We perused menus and Jon told me he was buying my drink. I ordered a gigantic strawberry margarita to my parents' chagrin. I didn't need the drink but I needed the drink.

Jon, Adam, and I talked about Scottie, the night we'd just experienced, and the impending funeral. The three of us moved over to the bar after our families headed back to the hotel. We weren't sure we could sleep. Adam bought me an Amaretto Stone Sour and we started talking about how we could honor a life ended too soon.

We talked about tattoos. Adam and Jon wanted to get ones done in Scottie's honor. We knew Pat, Scottie's brother, planned one, too. And as the alcohol rolled around my system, blurring my grief for a short time, I began thinking about what tattoo might memorialize Scottie.

Before the funeral began the next day, I whispered to Aunt Laurie about the idea slowly forming in my head. She loved the thought of us doing this and said she'd do it but she wasn't much of a tattoo person.

Grief made me long for the tangible. I could cry and I did. But I hated the lack of control in this situation, knowing how Scottie went to sleep after work and didn't wake up. 22 years old is so young. Far too young.

I needed to do something.

I thought about my first tattoo for a good couple of years before I actually got it. Here, the idea took hold and I knew there would be no waiting once I settled on the components.

Tattoo
A couple of months later, I walked into a local tattoo shop late Friday night with an image. The artist had recently rendered his own version, simple with minimal shading. I saw it as a sign. I decided to put it on my ankle so I could glance down and remember.

Celtic symbols had long resonated with me because of the beautiful design and my love of all things Irish. I chose a Celtic trinity symbol but not for the spiritual meaning.

When I looked at it, I thought of the past, present, and the future. I appropriated it for my time of mourning. I chose to remember the times we had together when Scottie was still alive, miss him now that he was gone, and look forward to the day we'd meet again.

Instead of adding his initials and dates of birth and death, I decided to let the symbol stand on its own. Since then, I've lost more loved ones and the tattoo reminds me again that this world is not all there is.

One day there will be no more tears or sorrow.

I look forward to that day.


Matriarch-in-Training

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Once the visitation for my aunt started, I tried to keep to the edges, darting into the middle of the fray only as needed. Hundreds upon hundreds of people poured into the church hall to pay their respects. I checked in with various family members to see how they were holding up. I helped a second cousin set up the food she'd brought us and then let everyone know where it was. I hugged people in the receiving line and listened to their stories about Aunt Sue.

Then I would find a chair and sit, giving my feet and myself a break. But still, I'd talk and listen and counsel. Bereavement counselor that I am, I poured into others for a few hours that evening. It comes naturally to me. Taking care of others is in my blood.

Our family has experienced more loss than anyone should. I worked for the same hospice that cared for my great-aunt and grandma and shepherded my family through those goodbyes. My cousins looked to me for support and I gave it.

I found a role in my family without even looking for it...

 

Please head over to A Deeper Family to read the rest.


The California Cousins

Leigh2Grandma and her beauteous granddaughters

 

I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I viewed Clara and Emily through awe-colored glasses, ever amazed by their wit, beauty, intelligence. They were only a few years older than me and they were my cousins. Mine.

 

Their parents divorced the year I was born. The girls consequently grew up on the East Coast, interspersed with time with their dad in Wisconsin. I saw Clara and Emily at Christmas and the other occasional holiday, some regular summer visits, too. We treasured being all together, this mass descending on my grandparents' house ready to eat and play and talk for hours.

 

I don't know how much I talked at family gatherings in my younger years. I wanted to soak everyone up and I also wasn't sure what I had to contribute. I was plain old me and everyone else was fascinating. There was no competition, no one making me feel “less than,” but I couldn't compete, especially with my dazzling cousins. Nor did I want to. I paid close attention to Clara and Emily's jokes and music recommendations and anything else they wanted to share. Maybe in hopes their awesomeness would rub off on me but also because time together was precious. I might not see them again for another six months or a year.

 

When my uncle remarried, the girls and a couple of their friends choreographed a dance at the reception. They stood on the steps outside the house and I don't remember the song that played but I can still picture them swaying and smiling on that humid day.

 

We're the only girl cousins and so for the many holidays and birthday parties Clara and Emily couldn't attend, it was me and the boys. Somewhere along the way, we grew up. Their visits became less frequent once they reached high school. I don't remember the last time they celebrated Christmas with us. Even so, I looked up to them. I still do.

 

They've been back to visit a handful of times this past decade. A family reunion, a quick weekend to say goodbye to our grandmother and then a week later for her funeral. They live in San Francisco and it's not cheap to fly back to the Midwest. They've missed out on the garden variety gatherings. Adam's wedding and my brother's, too. They couldn't come back for our cousin's funeral or Aunt Sue's, nor the funerals for so many great-aunts and great-uncles.

 

While home for Thanksgiving, Uncle Bud told me Clara, her boyfriend, and their baby boy were coming to visit the week after Christmas. We hadn't seen each other since Grandma's funeral 5 years ago. There was no way I'd miss out on the chance to see them; their visit would be my last hurrah before returning home to Nashville. Even better: Emily joined in on the fun, freshly back from Europe.

The first Saturday in January, the whole family (minus my brother and sister-in-law) convened at Grandpa's house. We ate and talked and laughed for hours. I snuggled Clara's almost 1 year old son any chance I could get. I talked with Clara's boyfriend about books and writing and, oddly enough, Scientology. (Look, I am strangely fascinated by Scientologists and I wanted a Californian perspective.) I looked around the room, overwhelmed by the love it contained.

And I caught up with my California cousins.

I'll always be a bit in awe of them. How could I not be? They are amazing women. But now I see our similarities. I see how I have just as much to offer and the way they look forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing them.

We've all ended up forging our own path. What are the odds?

Clara co-owns her business The Wedding Party. She started out as an employee and then she and her partner bought it out. And they've made it work! I secretly dream of some day flying out to the store to pick out my dress or the bridesmaid dresses. She's an amazing mother. I loved seeing the way she and Wallie take care of their son.

Then there's Emily. She started working with a rock band. Did she know anything about the music industry beforehand? No, but she's figured out each step along the way. The band has wound up on some amazing tours and they've made friends in high places. I could listen to her stories all day.

_047Clara, I still want your cardigan. Don't forget.

As we sat across from each other, trading stories about work and our dreams, I marveled at who we are. There's no telling what all we'll accomplish.

Clara and Emily are two of my biggest fans. I never could have imagined this when I was little. I had no idea what I was capable of offering the world.

The day flew by far too fast. There's never enough time to talk, to be. One of these days I'll make it out to San Francisco for a visit. We'll look forward to the next gathering, whenever it may be.