Written May 12, 2011
It’s been a while since I spent the night at the farm. One year, 11 months and 18 days to be exact. The night of Gumpy’s memorial service was the last time I spent the night here. There are a few more things in the Shrine (otherwise known as Uncle Jim’s bedroom) because Ema is sorting through things again. The crickets and frogs are bellowing as I’m typing. Sure I’m tired, but I don’t feel like sleep is coming.
This room seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid. The walls seemed straighter, the floor seemed more level, the stairs seemed wider. I guess after 148 years, the old home needed a break from active Hallenbecks, save one. It still has Ema, and I’m grateful for that.
I guess everything seems a little surreal tonight. Some of it is guilt, Gumpy wanted me to help take care of Ema and the best I could do the past two years is stay away from the farm. I was tired, Mom and I practically lived here weekends the last few years of Gumpy’s life. My life got in the way, with my new wife, grad school and a business that I didn’t see myself starting. I’ve always looked up to Ema and the times in life that I have fallen down, she’s always been the one I’ve hated disappointing most. And I really do feel like I've let both of my grandparents down.
Some of it is a growing realization that I am an adult now and that I’m probably at the end of the line of family that truly loves the farm. My earliest memories of the farm are chasing Shep, Gumpy’s Australian Shepard, around the outside of the house. The farm has always been a place of peace and comfort for me, even in my darkest hour. And I hope to always be able to call it home.
And frankly, some of it is because I still miss Gumpy terribly. There have been so many things I wish I could share with him, good and bad. I could always count on him to tell me he was happy to hear from me or that he was proud of me. While I do mimic some of his behavior when I’m here, like patting my arms at the dinner table or clapping three times when it’s time to leave, I will always be uncomfortable sitting at his place at the dinner table.
While I am a bit melancholy tonight, I am also reminded just how fortunate I am to still have Ema in my life. She’s healthy, active and more mentally sharp than most people I know. Most importantly for my sanity, I can still call and hear her voice at the other end of the phone when I’ve hit a rough patch or need a reality check.
The past two years have ushered in a completely different aspect of our relationship. Ema’s taken to tell me more stories about her childhood and her parents. Her parents were a bit older when she was born than Gladys and I are now, so Ema’s stories have given me a good measure of confidence that Gladys and I can raise a happy, healthy child.
Ema doesn’t stop in mid-sentence to apologize for blathering on anymore (her words, not mine). She always felt she needed to when she was telling me family stories, which she never did. Maybe she’s more comfortable telling me the stories now or maybe she wants to make sure they are heard before she loses the ability to tell them anymore. Regardless of reason, I’m glad Ema is sharing her stories.
That’s only one aspect of our changed relationship. Ema has always felt she needed to be the disciplinarian, and I suppose she was right on some level. After 37 years of this, I’m use to her expectations of me and her questions when I am not meeting those expectations. The change has been when I’ve needed to cry, she lets me cry on her shoulder without question. It was never her role before, but she does it with ease and grace. It’s a side I didn’t expect and a side of my grandmother I am truly grateful for.
Admittedly, I am really attached to the farm but none of it matters as much as the memories my grandparents helped create for me there. I am among the fortunate in life for having so many years to enjoy Ema and Gumpy. My tears tonight are a mix of sadness, guilt and gratefulness. The tears of gratefulness are winning.