Our Finnish grandmother – the only blond.

Once again in my trusty Honda Civic we find our way to Pennsylvania. I am excited to go to Harrisburg. The last time I was here my grandfather had just passed away. It was the late 80’s and my brother and I had decided separately and without the other knowing it, to dye our dirty blond hair some unrealistic shade of strawberry blond, for reasons beyond my comprehension. I had a perm and insisted on wearing a gold salamander pin on everything. I felt inadequate without shoulder pads and acrylic nails. I was recently married, mostly as a reaction to the dissolution of my parents relationship and my mother’s quick courtship and marriage to a man I called Dick – conveniently that was his name as well.

By the time my grandmother died a few years later I was already withering in Atlanta inches away from a much-needed and highly anticipated divorce. It is time to go back.

Using my trusty map app we find my cousin’s home. It is a nice big colonial on the corner of a tree-lined street. She is standing outside with her phone to her ear in one hand, and a coffee mug with her name on it in the other, just in case I have forgotten what she looks like. I have not.

Inside we meet her husband, the retired doctor and her cat, who I instantly try to make my friend. The first wave of christening folks have left and the second wave of family have not yet arrived. We take a few minutes to catch up and familiarize ourselves with where we’ll be sleeping.

First to arrive is my cousin’s brother – my other cousin, clearly. He looks great. I last saw the two of them when my father died about 10 years before. It’s nice to be seeing my Pennsylvania family under circumstances that don’t involve the death of someone.

Later his ex-wife arrives with my half-sister. He grows uncomfortable and leaves early. Larry hangs out with the former doctor and watches some sort of sports while the four women take their wine in the living room. It feels completely natural and very grounding to be among these women of my childhood. My half-sister (one of two) and I know each other mostly by our postings on Facebook. Our awareness of each other was restricted and in my case completely misguided until I was old enough to figure a few things out on my own. Our father did not do so well by either wife but possibly he did the best he knew how. More on that in another post perhaps. So we are learning each other here and now.

Stories turn to the one person we all intimately share, my grandmother. They have many more memories of her, having lived just around the corner from their modest home. This common thread beautifully connects us all.

The older of the half sisters is now on speaker phone so we can all “be together.” I know her really not at all. But it is because of her that I am here now. I will be driving to Lancaster tomorrow to retrieve a bronze Buddha statue I purchased from her and spend a few hours getting to know her and visiting her yoga studio.

After we have a few glasses of wine the subject naturally turns to selfies and photos. I call Larry in to take a few photos of the four of us with my iPhone. He is not a techie. He refuses a smart phone and uses his computer only for eBay, and on very rare occasions email and Facebook. I give him the task of pushing the button. Not an easy thing to do incorrectly. However he holds the button down, virtually taking a movie of the four of us sitting very still. He is excused.

Before everyone goes their separate ways, we make plans to visit the other half-sister tomorrow. The plans seem tentative with a lot of, “Are you sure?” and “Yes, of course!” and finally, “Well, we’ll talk in the morning.”

Larry and I head up to bed. The guest room has a window each on two adjacent walls. The air is fresh. The windows are open and I am hearing the bugs of my youth. Well, probably the descendants of the bugs of my youth, but they sound a lot the same. It is comforting, this cool air and nostalgic night sounds.

Sleep will come quickly and sweetly.



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