When Dad and Mom and I left Wisconsin late Friday night, the minivan was well-fortified with books and audio books, with snacks and blankets and pillows and computers. We carried enough comfort and entertainment supplies between us to last two months instead of two days. Dad took out a couple seats from the back of the minivan and put a mattress on the floor, and Mom and I took turns sleeping there during the ten-hour drive to Indiana.
Who says you can’t have limo-sized luxury in a battered blue minivan?
Nothing like being cuddled up cozy on a mattress with Dad and Mom up front, your head cradled on a pillow above the road buzz, your body warm with blankets against drafty steel sides, traffic humming past.
It made me feel almost like a child again, almost like the little girl who lay flat out on a soft sleeping bag in the back of the station wagon with her sisters, and watched cars pass in a funny upside down way. Sometimes, when we were passing a big semi, the station wagon seemed to move backward, until all of a sudden we were past into sunlight and going forward again.
That old gray station wagon holds another memory for me:
I came out of the bathroom once, a little girl anxious NOT to pee my pants during a planned shopping expedition with Mom and my sisters and pretty Aunt Luella, and found that they had left without me.
They were just gone, the house empty.
Dad found me, and seeing my sad face, rushed me out the gray station wagon. We sped down the road, going faster than I remembered ever driving before, until we caught up to their van and they pulled over and I crawled in with the others.
What made the ordeal memorable was the fact that Dad had previously forgotten to screw on the station wagon’s radiator cap, and by the time we sped up to Mom and the others, the station wagon was overheated and ruined forever, all the water having run out during the chase. Back then I didn’t understand the bit about the radiator cap and thought the whole thing was my fault, that Dad had ruined the station wagon for me.
This time around, we had a smooth trip and arrived at Grandma Miller’s house in Indiana Saturday morning, without incident. Grandma and a couple of Dad’s sisters met us with hugs and smiles.
Grandma Miller is short and plump. Her hair is white, white–maybe a bit blue in the back because of the special shampoo she uses–covered with a small black veil. Grandma is given to laughter and to singing songs that fit the occasion–her voice is an old lady off tune voice now, but dramatic and expressive, as it has always been. She is known for making blunt little comments to people and about people, but the way her eyes tear up at the slightest provocation reveals the softness of her heart.
She grew teary when she saw Dad.
Standing in the kitchen, talking with all of us, she brought up an old childhood story. “Ted, I wanted to tell you sorry for something. One time we had company, and we left to go somewhere and you were sleeping, and I was so busy thinking about the company I forgot you. We came back and you were just crying and crying.” Her eyes grew teary again. “Do you remember?”
“Now that you say it, I think I remember. I remember waking up and I was by myself. I remember looking out the window and there was a moon.”
Grandma shook her head. “I still feel bad when I think about it. You were only two.”
“I don’t think you have to feel bad,” Dad said. “We forgot Benny one time in the goodwill. The only reason we realized he was missing is we went to MacDonald’s afterwards and there was an extra hamburger.”
My aunts and I cracked up laughing about that extra hamburger. Me, even though I’d heard the story before…especially because I’d heard the story before.
“Rose got red all up the side of her neck,” Dad said.
“I imagined he was kidnapped,” Mom said.
“We went back to the goodwill,” Dad said, “and the Lutheran old ladies had him on a chair feeding him graham crackers.”
And then one of my aunts told a story of a California couple who’d forgotten their 18 month old grandchild in the back seat of their hot vehicle when they got home from church, and he had died.
No one could imagine how terrible that would be.
There is something particularly devastating in being forgotten or left behind, something particularly guilt and horror-inducing if you are the one who forgot.
It is something about our human psyche and the significance we place on significance.
After my old lady friend Char died–my best friend at that time, who lived for my visits–I had two horrible dreams in which she was dying in a nursing home, and I hadn’t gone to see her in months. Both times I woke up, ready to jump from bed that minute and rush to visit her, wondering how, how, HOW I could have forgotten. And then I remembered. She was gone. Both times, the realization was such relief. There would have been nothing so terrible as forgetting her.
I suppose everybody has a “forgotten” story–hopefully humorous rather than terrible–of a time when they were forgotten or forgot someone else.
What is your story?