This post (originally written two years ago) is the last in a series of posts about my grandparents. Thanks for sharing memories with me.
We’ve been coming here for four years now, so I guess you could call it a tradition. Each summer my parents, siblings, and their families gather for a three-day weekend at a hotel in the canyon. This place has layers of memories for me. We came here when I was a child, when my parents were young and my grandparents a youthful middle-age. I have echoes of memories, mental glimpses of relatives I no longer see. I remember running the halls with my cousins, and even my child-memory has retained with surprising accuracy the long, low-ceilinged hallways.
I think it was partly those memories that drew us here a generation later. Now I am a mother and my children run the halls with their cousins. The first year we came, Grandpa was still alive. He and Grandma had the largest room, the only one with a sofa and soaking tub. Swallows had built nests along the soffit outside their window—mud nests with wisps of grass, and the birds darted and flew between the trees and the building. Grandma and Grandpa spent hours watching them. Grandpa knew birds, spent years watching them, and could identify almost any kind that we would ever see. There was just a flicker of jealousy when we told him we had a family of small owls in our backyard that would come out at dusk, making sounds like monkeys. “Sure would like to see that,” he said.
He died in the spring, not suddenly but still unexpected. He was sick for only two weeks. I saw him once in the hospital; I didn’t go more because I thought he would come home. The one time I did go, I was shaken. I tried to ignore the humiliating deterioration, tried to visit normally, but sounded stilted even to my ears. The blatant image of his mortality had slapped me into confusion. I wanted to speak, but didn’t know how. After fifteen minutes I left, making my goodbye as breezy as possible. “I’ll see you later,” I said, unsure of how much he heard. He looked at me, held my eyes, and said, “I love you.” I nodded, tearing. Those words had never been spoken between us, and I was unprepared for what it meant to speak them now. I walked away without a reply—an act that haunts me still.
Summer came, and with it the usual time for our reunion. We questioned where we should go and if we should go at all without Grandpa; he had only been gone three months. Grandma insisted—we would go back to the place where there were so many memories of him.
A favorite feature of this hotel is its golf course. My grandpa knew golf courses. He used to sell lawn mowers—big commercial ones. He knew every course in the West and had sold mowers to many of them. At his funeral, my dad said that it was not the machines he loved, but the turf. Beautiful, green, perfect.
That first year after his death, I knew I had to visit the golf course. I went at dusk, walking down the paved lane to a point where the road breaks to an access for the fourth hole. It’s about a quarter-mile walk—quiet, with time to think. I hadn’t had much of either. Rush and noise are effective numbing agents.
When I reached the fourth hole, I slipped the sandals off my feet and walked toward the putting green. Have you ever walked barefoot on a golf course before? It nearly took my breath away. Cold, springy, dense grass—like a living carpet. The shock of it, the pure sensation of it, woke my spirit and I could not stop the tears. I walked with my chest tight, holding my breath to stop the sobs, feeling that grass and missing my grandpa.
This year is the third since his death. Grandma is in the same room, and the swallows are still there with their nests. When evening comes, I walk down the narrow road again. The setting sun paints the mountains with changing shades of salmon and gold. The air, cooling around me, smells of pine and withered leaves. I wander slowly, taking in the sounds of the whispering leaves, a distant car radio, the rustling of unknown creatures in the grass. Reaching the access lane to the fourth hole, I veer off the path and remove my sandals. The grass is so cold it feels wet, almost too cold to walk on. A smile tugs at me as my feet touch the putting green; I am in wonder still at the texture of it. I hop the line between the two cuts—the longer and shorter—delighted at the difference in how they feel. Then I wander to the center of the green and sit, running my hands over the impossibly dense surface, unable to even wedge a finger in. Hunching over, Muslim style, I press my forehead into the grass and breathe in the sharp, living scent of it. The smell is beyond grass—it includes the earthy, edgy, untamed soil beneath—elements to which we all will crumble.
This has become my pilgrimage, my way to remember. With my bare feet on the grass I feel more connected to Grandpa than at any other time, needing this private and sensory way of feeling his memory. At his grave, the distractions of so many surrounding losses often prevent me from feeling my own. It is here, in this mountain, alone on this green, where I can always feel him. I like to think that he knows this routine, that he watches to see if I will go, if I will remember. It’s something we share, and in finding a way to honor him, I’ve learned why he loved the grass.