My grandfather is a tall man named Sloane who wrote for a living. Skin and bones beneath black suit jackets and reporter cap; a pencil and paper sort of guy.
He grew up in southern Indiana
, just north of the Kentucky
border near Louisville
. God's country
, he called it. And God's country he meant.
It wasn't the bible belt
, I can tell you that much right now. And my grandfather is not a God fearing man. He never much believed the hype. But it was country beauty, it was nature. It was the edge of something
that we never get back, that's for sure.
The weather where I am
is beautiful. It rains a lot but you get used to it and learn to appreciate the beauty it brings. I have been to far away places and in no place do I think that the phrase "April showers bring May flowers
" is more apparent than here.
This place has always been my home. Oh I have seen Europe and lived on the East coast
and traveled throughout the nation
. But I keep coming back here. And I wouldn't dream of trading it for any other place of the world.
But my grandfather would trade it all off in seconds. He dreams of Indiana still, I can hear it in faint whispers while he cooks, I can catch it in the ink of his pen when he writes about it. I can feel it in the heat of his breath
when he tells stories about God's country.
My grandfather has been my favorite person, always. And this is why.
He went to Korea
when he was 19 years old. He doesn't talk much about what he saw there. He wrote articles and updates for the Army to send out to press. He said he kept it basic, never put his heart in it. Wrote what they wanted him to write and compromised the details in order to avoid having it all come down at once to break his heart. Dreamed every day of the day when it was all over for him and he could come home.
Until he met my grandmother, an Army nurse, in the mess hall on a Sunday evening. 1800 hours on the dot, he said. Standing in her civies chatting to her commanding officer about supplies. Love at first sight. He was 22 by this time and she had just turned 20. He claims he walked right up, tapped her on the shoulder and asked to dance, right then and there, in a mess hall full of dirty soldiers and broken hearts. Swept her right off her feet.
So when the war
was over and they were sent back to the states, he followed her right back to Oregon. Sent his best wishes to Indiana and kissed it goodbye. Settled down and turned a forest into a vineyard
and called it home. Got a daytime job as a reporter for a city newspaper and worked in the vineyard in the evenings and weekends. Loved every minute of the life he was building.
My grandmother gave him a son and two daughters. Andrew, Katherine, and Rebecca.
He will tell you at this point, that he never thought about Indiana again until his youngest daughter was a child. Because it was in her, that he saw himself
. Intrigued by details and nature and the wonder of it all. Spent her afternoons playing in the dirt and digging up tiny treasures instead of playing dolls and dress up with her sister. Wasn't even interested in the cars or sports like her brother. Just wanted to be left alone, on the back of the vineyard with her hand shovel and notebook. Already an explorer
; already obviously his daughter.
He waited until she was eighteen to take her to see his Indiana. Wanted to wait until she was old enough to appreaciate it. Didn't want to wait too long.
Years later, when I too reached that age, my grandfather took me to Indiana as well. Oh I had been before, twice in fact, both in honor of dead people
. But those were quick visits as a young child, only to be escorted back on to a plane and back to Oregon. No time to explore, no time to visualize.
My grandfather and I made the trip by car
, across back highways and through small towns. We mapped it out without using a single interstate.
My grandfather's Indiana is different from most people's version of the state. It is not Indianapolis
; it is not Gary
. It is not highway or interstate and it is not cornfield.
It is tree lined winding roads that small animals like to run out on. It is hay trucks moving slowly. It is old Catholic churches circa 1850. It is sunshine and tiny mountains and back country and people. People, I said, people
. That is what God's country is made of. It is pumpkins
and fall colors and lordy, and and and. There is so much that my grandfather's Indiana is. In his own words, it is beauty, simply put.
My grandfather, to the best of my knowledge, has not taken another trip to Indiana since the one that he took with me.
He misses it
My grandfather is an old man now. Old. He writes things down to hold on to them. He thumbs through pictures just to remember. He holds on to the last of his fading memories and talks about them because he is sure that if he doesn't talk about them, he'll lose them. He loses himself
. Wraps himself up in the past to protect himself from the present. Inhales deeply the perfume of his wife and remembers her; tastes pasta and remembers his mother. Closes his eyes as if time will stop right there and then, if only for a few minutes, and let him go back.
Remembers the memories to forget the future
He says, memories are meant to be shared anyway. Listen while you are still capable
of appreciating beauty, he says.
He has no pictures of Indiana to rummage
through. He only has syllables on old legal paper
describing the scenes that he remembered. Even I cannot describe the scenes that he has penned on faded yellow paper.
He asks me to come over on the weekends, and read Indiana to him.
I read for hours, and keep reading the words over and over in my head for hours after I leave. They are the most beautiful and most passionately written words I have ever encountered. They are his memories, his dreams of Indiana.
He makes his children and grandchildren promise
, as old men often do, that we will see to it that he gets home
I promise, I say. I promise.