By the summer of 1980 I was divorced, graduated, and living on Camano Island in Washington State where I'd run off to after graduation with a guy on a Harley Davidson Sportster all the way from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The farm was sold. The kids were with my second ex. My folks and I weren't getting along again. I'd divorced the best husband I could possibly ever hope to get, left him with the kids and run off on a motorcycle. My mother was crushed. My father was disgusted. My folks didn't come to my (magna cum laude) graduation and my mother addressed letters to me as Mrs. Barry Stoner for years. I didn't hear from them much. My grandfather was in a nursing home. They couldn't handle him around the house anymore.
Early one summer morning of that year I was awakened by the phone ringing. It must have been around 7, 7:30 or so. I lay in bed waiting for it to stop ringing. It didn't stop. Finally I went to answer it. It was mom.
"Honey, Grampa died last night."
"Oh, mom, no. Really?" Like my mother would kid around about this.
"Yes, honey. He went peacefully in his sleep."
I think I said something about it being too bad, but maybe it was time for him to go and so forth and so on and all the time I was numb. My grandfather had been alive my entire life. I was used to that. I couldn't get unused to it. Mom was agreeing with me and we were saying all the correct things, and then finally she broke down.
"Barbie, my daddy's dead."
Just for a moment then I saw my mother as a girl, as somebody's daughter, as somebody sort of like me, and it was overwhelming. I cried and she cried and things weren't all better after that but thery were a little bit better. I hung up and went back to bed. My boyfriend rolled over and said, "Who the fuck was that?" And I said, "It was mom. My grandfather died." And he said, "Why'd they have to call so fucking early?" and rolled over and went back to sleep. Not much later on, I realized that was the point when I began to leave him.
Years before, after my grandparents had visited the farm, I started to write him a letter. The letter turned into a poem, and years later I read it at his grave when we sprinkled my parents' ashes over his and my grandmother's graves.
I came out of the barn tonight
And I was tired and depressed.
It was raining, and we hadn't gotten the maple taps in,
And the dump was closed early.
Nothing was all the way done for the day.
I kept forgetting where I'd put things
And what I was going to do next.
But I came out of the barn after chores
And stood there in a square of barn light
In the rain,
And the spring rain was falling on my spring land.
My animals were warm and well fed
And the sap was running.
A duck webbed by and wobbled over the barn sill
And I was very very happy and very well and strong.
I thought about you.
I thought maybe you have this feeling
That if you could only get home, you'd be all right.
That you're confused because the landscape has changed,
And you're deaf because no one can tell you,
And blind for there's nothing familiar to see.
But if you could get to the home place
You'd have very important work,
Like taking out the ashes
And bringing in the cobs and coal.
You'd know where to cross the river
And all the trees would be in the right places.