Thursday, November 28, 2013

So many goodbyes...

It is Thanksgiving, and I am sitting in my hotel room in Staunton, Virginia, getting ready to travel to Louisa County where we have been invited to join my 'daughter' Morgan Albert Smith's family for Thanksgiving. I was up early-ish this morning to talk my daughter through the fine art of preparing creamed onions - our contribution to the feast. We are preparing to get on the road in an hour or so. It will be lovely, sad day.

Mom at Oak Grove
I am here because my mother died on November 14. Exactly two months shy of her 87th birthday, she passed away peacefully under the caring and watchful eye of her doctor. When my daughter and I went to the nursing home, we spoke to her nurse who told us that our last emails to her were printed off and read to her before she died. I am so grateful. My last email let her know that I will always carry her with me and that I will always love her. Likewise, my daughter and sister sent emails that day, too. We all knew the time had come.

A week ago, we said our final goodbyes to Mom. My sister, daughter and partner, husband, cousin and her family attended the private interment of her ashes at the columbarium at Saint John's Episcopal Church in Waynesboro. Her ashes are now with my father's. Dad's ashes were silver with flecks of black and they sparkled. Mom's were pure white, glistening as they filled the small opening in the red Virginia clay. They are together again and that makes me feel a little less sad. In going through Mom's stuff, we found their love letters to each other - written in 1949. How they loved each other.

The memorial service at Emmanuel Church in Staunton was perfect. My sister and I wanted some Beatles music to play as people came into the church. The musical director at the church played 'In My Life' on the piano. It was lovely. Two of my mother's dearest friends provided the readings that Mom had chosen. We sang Mom's favourite hymn, 'I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.' And, for those who wished, the church ran off copies of A.A. Milne's final chapter for 'The House at Pooh Corner.' It is the chapter in which Christopher Robin tries to explain to Pooh that he is going away. When I read it over just before Mom died, I was particularly struck by these words at the end of the chapter.

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
          “Yes?” said Pooh.
          “When I’m—when—Pooh!”
          “Yes, Christopher Robin?”
          “I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
          “Never again?”
          “Well, not so much.  They don’t let you.”
          Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
          “Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
          “Pooh, when I’m—you know—when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up her sometimes?”
          “Just Me?”
          “Yes, Pooh.”
          “Will you be here, too?”
          “Yes, Pooh, I will be, really.  I promise I will be, Pooh.”
          “That’s good,” said Pooh.
          “Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever.  Not even when I’m a hundred.”
          Pooh thought for a little.
          “How old shall I be then?”    
          Pooh nodded.
          “I promise,” he said.
          Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
          “Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I—if I’m not quite—” he stopped and tried again—“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
          “Understand what?”
          “Oh, nothing.”  He laughed and jumped to his feet.  “Come on!”
          “Where?” said Pooh.
          “Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

          So they went off together.  But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

Mom loved Winnie-the-Pooh and our childhood was spent listening to her read the stories to us. Even now, when I read any A.A. Milne, I hear Mom's voice. I think I always will. 'James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree' will always be heard as read by my mother (especially the whispering part). I suppose, for Mom, reading that final chapter at her service (which we had to change to providing people with copies since it would have taken too long) was her way of saying that she would always be there, no matter what. And that somewhere, she is whole and healthy again. I am going to miss her so much.

Katie and me in our backyard in Waynesboro
And when we leave this area tomorrow morning, I am saying goodbye again. I have no reason to come back again now that Mom is gone. Travelling is difficult for me and I really, really don't like flying. So our trip back to the UK on Monday evening will be my last. And so I bid farewell to Waynesboro, where I spent a magical childhood - riding my bicycle to the creek in the summer and sledding down the hills at the golf course in the winter. Where trick-or-treating lasted hours and delighted dozens of children dressed up in homemade costumes.  Where Christmas Eve afternoons were spent taking part in the church pageant (always an angel) where the littlest children came to the altar with canned goods during the singing of 'Away in a Manger' and the pageant ended with the procession of a birthday cake and the joyful singing of 'Happy Birthday' to the Christ child. Then the afternoon would continue with the distribution of cookies to friends around town and an evening with our closest friends before going home and trying so hard to fall asleep. Where summers were spent on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and then back home and out to Oak Grove Theatre in Verona. My mother, father and I took part in so many plays - on stage and off. (My sister would work backstage sometimes and was in one play, but preferred to be part of the audience.) In those days, the cast party on Saturday night would take place at Penny Royal Farm and go until the early hours. It was a wonderful childhood. How lucky we were. What amazing parents we had. They were good times.

I also say farewell to the college on the hill - Mary Baldwin College. I will always hold dear my years as a student there. It was during the college's 'golden age.' I loved my years there under the tutelage of dearly loved professors who opened up the world to me and gave me the opportunity to shine. It was one of the best colleges in the country then and I was so lucky to have had the chance to study there.

I say farewell to friends - both old and new - who made my life in the Shenandoah Valley one of love and laughter.

And so, tomorrow, as I watch Staunton fade into the distance, I say farewell with love and happy memories to sustain me. I love where I am, but I wouldn't be there if I hadn't been here first.

Goodbye, Mom and Dad, I love you both more than you will ever know. Goodbye, Waynesboro and Staunton. Goodbye, Oak Grove Theatre and the The Oaks and Hawthorne Lane and Tams Street. Goodbye, Fairfax Hall and Mary Baldwin. Goodbye, Virginia. Thank you for everything you have given me and for everything that will stay with me always.