There was a high, strong keening somewhere inside when I stopped at the top of the dune.
It was the indescribable sound a soul makes when it has enough time and experience stored up to be able to understand this would be a hindsight moment. A point of clarity and sweetness and weeping. A point where I know, should I return to this very top of this very dune again, there would be no escaping the sorrow of it somehow. It was the foreknowing of the loss.
If I had never known the devastation of Alzheimer’s, perhaps the keening would have been absent.
It took me a few hours to write of it. In another state, further South, amidst the “Everything Peaches” signs.
Peach salsa. Peach bread. Peach preserves. Peach jam. Peach fudge. Peach ice cream.
Everything Peaches. Fuzzed and sweet and dripping elbows and sticky chins and who-brought-the-floss-for-the-flesh-between-my-teeth?
I believe it is when you can taste the peach in everything that you know the true nature of peaches. A savory distinction.
The value is found there.
And that’s when I thought of Aunt Kim, how, even in the grip of approaching darkness, there was that ever-present “Everything Kim” distinct flavoring.
I can’t remember not knowing Kim. I called Kentucky home. She called the Carolinas home. She was a dime to my penny, satin to my grosgrain, fuchsia to my ecru. She wore clothes that were impractical to the farm life I lived. Impractical clothes I desperately coveted. She taught children who neither spoke nor heard how to make their hands into words and those words into sentences and those sentences into life-sculptors. She talked with a drawl that, try as I might, had more syllables than I could imitate. She smoked long, thin cigarettes that had tiny flowers printed on the paper. She drank her Coca-Cola with lemon in it before sodas learned how to be fancy.
She was a Greer before she married my Uncle Danny and her whole family joined her in the loving of us.
And, though I loved to snuggle into her smoky Southern embrace, I always felt a bit of distance was necessary. Like taking off shoes on holy ground, or seeing only the back of God as He passed. There was a point of sacristy to Aunt Kim and I loved her with a bushel of awe and gratitude and reverence. I felt good for days after a visit - special, anointed, more full after having loved and been loved by her, eager to share that feeling with others.
She wasn’t a Southern Belle. She was a Southern goddess.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” she asked, as she clutched an object in her hands. At first, it was just when she pointed out the stained glass lampshades, touching them with a slim, tapered finger until they rocked gently. Then, it was the cloisonné vase she cradled to her chest. Azure blue with threads of gold that played catch with the light. On that last day, she held onto the hem of her deep purple top, stretching it taut. “It’s beautiful. I made this and it’s beautiful because I made this.”
And those moments were when the foreknowing asked hindsight to dance. The music went a little like this:
Stanza One -- The first woman sat at the window of the place she didn’t know was home and waved her taught-you-to-crochet hands at the buildings and cars and she said her whole family owned this land once upon a time.
Stanza Two -- The second woman walked beside me with her used-to-take-you-to-Gatlinburg-every-year hands clasped behind her back and she said she taught the whole company how to do their computering.
Stanza Three -- The third woman stretched out her shirt with her made-you-believe-you-were-worth-something hands and she said she had made it beautiful.
Three women in one song, dancing in the darkness. Grandma. Meme. Aunt.
And I was the one who stood on the top of the dune and swayed with the high, strong keening.
It’s the women who aren’t afraid to dance. The pain in the beginning balances the pain in the end. Laboring in and laboring out and laboring in between.
And we stretch out the fabric and see its beauty because we never stop the weaving. And we pull the chain or turn the crank of every single stained glass lamp because we are the light bringers. And we use our hands to shape and hold the vases because we are the mistresses of the outpouring.
In the weave, in the light, in the pour … we are.
As I stood on the top of the dune, arms outstretched to fling this pained joy back to God as my praise offering, I breathed in the ocean air and believed I could leave, even with the knowing of what would come. The loss meant that at some point, I had gained the savory distinction of Kim.
Isn’t this beautiful?