The two people who would have gotten the biggest kick out of this summer hiking adventure are not around for me to tell it to. They were two of my biggest cheerleaders. They always had time for me and loved me with the type of love that instills courage, dreams and confidence.
My grandfather, Baba, was one of the most gentlest, kindliest, intelligent people that I had the privileged to know. He was a chemist, teacher and inventor. His thirst for knowledge was quenched at the library where he was found on a daily basis. And if he couldn’t make it to the library in person, he reached them by phone. He was always researching something and had a questions for the reference desk. Baba was adventurous and fun. He took us on family mystery rides, taught us all the words to “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch Coconuts”, and watched Cindafella more times that I can remember. I think he passed on his love of PBS to me and whenever I watch Masterpiece Theater, I pretend that he is sitting right next to me with a big bowl of air popped popcorn.(Sorry Baba, I put a lot of salt AND butter on mine.) My grandfather had a country-western DJ company, was the president of his writing club, and was always on the look out for a new project. He approached failure as a challenge to succeed. He left a legacy of education, perseverance, gentle and kind words, mystery and adventure.
My aunt was beautiful inside and out. She was creative and loved art, poetry and books. Like my grandfather, she was a teacher. Auntie had her degree in education and was a personal trainer. In the 90s, she made a few exercise videos rocking colorful,spandex exercise clothing. She dabbled in modeling too. Auntie was fun and had a great sense of humor. She loved Seinfeld and Toy Story. I can still hear her laugh and see her smile. She was one of those people who came alongside you. Celebrated with you, cried with you, laughed with you, encouraged you. Oh, she was such an encourager! And a leader! People loved to be with her. My aunt was also a courageous fighter. She fought cancer for many years. At the end of her life, she kept her wit, humor and grace until she could no longer speak or write. She never complained to me and always managed to give me a smile.
Tomorrow marks a day of remembrance. Ten years have passed since Auntie’s passing and some days my grief is as raw and real as it was then. I think grief is like that. No right or wrong way to work through it. It pulls me back through memories. There are moments when I still expect to see my aunt walk through the door or hear her voice as she sings my name -“Shanny-Jean.” So many times, I have wanted to pick up the phone and tell her the latest news or hear her excitement over this hiking trip. I am sure she would have me on some sort of personal training routine for strengthening my glutes and core muscles (complete with the perfectly drawn stick-figures.)
I can no longer hear what my grandfather’s voice sounds like. We have recorded tapes with his voice but if I am being honest, it would make me even more sad to listen to them. He would have loved this hiking trip. Researching all he could about the mountains I will climb and helping me purchase the correct gear. He might have invented some sort of gadget for me to take. Or create freezed-dried humus-his homemade humus was the best.
Even though I can’t have them here on Earth, I carry them with me each day. I see them in butterflies, glass beakers, and in books. What they invested in me has outlasted their breath. They gave me adventure, courage, love of learning, and unconditional love. I pour those things into my children hoping to leave them a similar legacy that out last my last breath.
They are coming with me on my hike. I am taking this picture in my pack because this is how I think of my grandfather and aunt in heaven. Auntie with her tour book in hand. Baba taking it all in, thinking about the next new thing to jump into. Smiling and laughing. Free of pain and in peace.