This morning I woke and decided I would drive the 3 hours to the Valley where we grew up and where most of my family have been laid to rest. I decided I needed to go alone, so I would feel comfortable to feel whatever emotions presented themselves.
I stopped at the first scenic overlook after you cross from North Carolina into Tennessee. It is always so beautiful and I can feel myself breathe a little easier when I see the expanse of the mountains.
As soon as I saw the mountains and the skies I thought of this poem.
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
I finally understood the poem. I felt her breath in the air and saw her spirit in the clouds that swept across the skies. I knew she was with me every day and not confined to a grave.
I continued on, stopping only to pick up some roses to take to the cemetery. This was my first trip to the cemetery since my sister was buried there. As I drove up to the cemetery, I was surprised at how I was feeling. I walked around the cemetery and left a rose on each headstone for each family member interred there. I took a few pictures of the view and remember feeling for the first time, that the view was very different from the view I remember as a child. I thought being there would overwhelm me with emotions, but it did not.
When I left the cemetery, I drove through this little Valley realizing it was a part of me that had passed. It wasn’t the same anymore. I visited all the wonderful memories I held with my sister.
She started her life there as an only child, but that would not last long. There were three more to come. This is the house where we all lived and experienced some of the best years of our lives:
We hung our heads over the porch and washed our hair in rainwater. We snuck into the cellar and sampled my grandfather’s grape wine made from the little grape arbor we had out back. BJ was the first child here and she remembered the house when it was just simple tarpaper shack. She was there when the septic tank was put in and when several rooms in the house were added on.
She went to school across the road from that house in a one-room schoolhouse where my mom taught school. One day during recess, the kids were playing hide-and-seek and she did not return to class. My mom was worried sick, but they found her curled up in the high grass fast asleep.
When it rained, she would put her hands and face against the glass and just say ‘pouin’ down rain‘. We repeated this phrase her whole life every time it rained hard
As I pulled out onto the state highway, of course, I had to stop for a turtle crossing the road. My sister was famous for stopping to rescue turtles so they would not get hit on the highway. It made me chuckle. This is where my day started to turn. I knew my sister was just laughing at me. I could feel she was going to have fun with me.
I took a detour so I could stop by the school we all attended as children.
This is the school my sister attended until her senior year when the new high school was built. The ‘old rock school’ was built entirely from rocks pulled from the creek bed. It stands today, renovated and revitalized as an apartment building for the elderly. We had some of the greatest times at that school. She was my big sister and looked out for all of us.
I continued on and stopped by a favorite burger joint we all frequented with our parents when we were kids. Of course, it is abandoned now, but the menu is still standing and makes a perfect place for the police to set up their speed traps. The cement tables where we ate our burgers are now hidden by tall grass. It is a place that holds great memories for me but the people are no longer there. The people I carry in my heart and that is much nicer than getting upset by abandoned places that no longer hold much of anything.
After this stop, I decided to stop at Starbucks and ordered a nice hot latte for the drive home. When I left Starbucks and started the car it made a horribly loud noise. This is what I get for car shopping. It turns out the fan for the A/C was making all the noise. I was fortunate it was not any worse but that meant I had to drive all the way home (three hours) with no A/C. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven on the highway with the windows down. Talk about loud, especially with the tractor-trailer trucks on either side. I know my sister was laughing that my emotional trip to see her, took this turn — and with a hot latte — I could not have ordered an iced latte, could I?
After stopping for gas, I proceeded on. The first hour and a half were uneventful, other than the obvious — it was hot!!! Temperatures were ranging between 87 and 99 for the entire trip. Then I hit Asheville. There was an accident which clogged every highway. The major thoroughfare was down to one lane. I ended up weaving my way off the highway and decided to take the backroads home.
Now you would have to know my sister to understand the significance of this. No matter when we were together, she always managed to find her way on to the backroads and turn an hour trip into an all afternoon adventure. I just had to laugh.
My three-hour drive home with no A/C turned into a five-hour drive with no A/C. I spent the day remembering wonderful stories about my sister. I realized that I did not need to drive all that way to spend time with her or to be in her presence. I realize I carry her with me everywhere I go.
I will always miss her presence here but today I realized her essence is part of me. It is like the poem. She is inside every moment of every day.
It was a long day, but a very worthwhile day. I recalled so many wonderful memories and I’m not sad. I’m filled up with the spirit of my sister and it is a glorious feeling.