As a child, Collin spent his summers in Arkansas, on his grandparents’ 300 acres outside Little Rock. It’s surprisingly pleasant; nothing like I remember of my own childhood in neighboring Oklahoma. It’s hot and humid, but the breeze coming off the lake is delicious and there is shade everywhere. It’s green and the roads wind up and down, left and right, and Collin revs his inherited minivan, the ostensible point of this trip, tires squealing around the curves as I gasp.
When we do drive west into Oklahoma, the land flattens. We arrive in Tulsa just in time to discover there is a tornado heading towards us. We talk with my grandmother Halcyon, who has always lived up to her name, even now that she is on hospice care and looked after by my aunt. Grandmother holds court for two hours in the living room before she gets too tired and has to lie down. She tells stories: a new one about the time she helped her brother drive to San Francisco, and then, afterwards, sat on her luggage, alone, wondering if she should get dressed up and go look for a job. But she didn’t; she decided to go back home to the farm in Iowa. “Your Grandfather told me I was his blithe spirit,” she says, chuckling over her many tangential forays into the wide world as a young woman. You know, she kept saying, I just couldn’t marry someone from there, someone from that small town in Iowa. Collin records her on his iPhone as she talks about this, and then talks about the nanny they hired for the four children, birthed in quick succession. “She left us and moved to California, and then we heard she was murdered,” says Grandmother. This is news to me, and I wonder if maybe she’s mixed up. Her dates and facts have begun to lose themselves in memory; 23-year-old cousin Meghan whispers that Grandmother recently asked what Meghan was doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
In any case, Grandmother has hit upon the idea that Collin and I are there to invite her to our wedding or something, and Aunt Betsy says: “no, Mom, they’re just getting acquainted.”
“Oh,” says Grandmother “I hope I haven’t embarrassed anyone.” She really looks embarrassed, and so I quickly assure her that no, it’s fine, and I laugh.
The tornado passes us by, and all we get is light rain. The next morning, I slip in to say goodbye before we drive on to Colorado to see my brother. Grandmother is clear and sweet, and frail, just awaken, and she says, remembering from the day before: “give my love to Samuel, and oh, little Kate, I love you so much.”