Continuities found again, remembering who gave me generosity

I still owe this blog a “Big, big West Part Two” post about the first half of my west coast tour, the memories are calcifying and degrading into fiction as I write, but I feel the need to proceed with that still on the to do list.  I just got off the Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago Megabus.  I went to the Twin Cities so I could go to Mankato for my Grandmother’s Funeral, which was on Saturday, followed by a Champaign brunch at the Mankato Golf Club.  She retained her membership at the Golf Club after she knew she was not mobile enough ever to go there again, so we could get a better rate from the club for this brunch.  Mary Virginia Anderson, my mom’s mom, my last living grand parent, died at 94, last Wednesday morning.  Here’s the Mankato Free Press obituary.  Her health had been in steady decline for years and she was in hospice care for maybe a month before she died, so this was not unexpected and has come as a relief for my aunt and mom who have had to do a lot of leg work and worrying over the past couple years.

Leaving Chicago on the bus early Thursday morning I was in a daze, to say the least–a combination of tiredness, chemicals, and emotion. Up on the upper deck of the Megabus (in my favorite seat behind the rear stairwell, it seems roomier somehow). It occurred to me that up there you’re at about the same height as when you’re on the Amtrak.  And In my daze I was disoriented enough that the familiar corridor along the Kennedy Expressway, headed toward Milwaukee, looked unfamiliar and I was able to watch it whizzing by with a renewed curiosity, wondering still about this gigantic urban center, it’s reaches, where all this material came from, what was sacrificed, where does it really begin and end?  And there is continuity in this wonder.  I remembered flying into the Chicago to visit my uncle when I was maybe nine or ten–around Thanksgiving perhaps–and being shaken and awed by the seemingly endless grid of lights below.   A stuporous haze can be quite a wonderful thing.

There was a really uncanny moment after the visitation at the funeral home on Friday.  Andrew, my big brother, and I volunteered to go pick up the pizzas for the dinner with the extended family in the Holiday Inn Express lobby.  We were about 25 minutes early when we got to Dino’s in North Mankato so we decided we would get a beer in one of the bars there on main street.  I suggested we just drink at Dino’s but Andrew wanted something more real.  We headed for the American Legion.  After walking halfway in Andrew turned us around and said, “that was too real.” But the bar tender chased us down and said we couldn’t pop our heads in and not have a drink, and demanded that we come in.  How could we say no?  The Friday evening crowd was pretty decent and they literally applauded us for coming in.  Andrew, being a peculiar form of outgoing, and in a peculiar moment of extraversion, asked an older man if he knew Harold Anderson, our grandfather.    He did, and what’s more it turned out the guy was a distant relative of ours!  We chatted for a bit about our gramma who he visited somewhat regularly.  He was very disappointed that he couldn’t make it to the funeral, due to previous commitments.   He told us about the geneology work he’s been doing on the Swedish part of our family.  He said something that really strikes me as interesting.  He said it’s been difficult to find information about our relatives in the old country, that there seem to be some severed ties there and thinks that one of the reasons is that they may have left on bad terms, that they may have left to avoid conscription, mandatory military service to defend the emerging nation-state.  Andrew and I talked about this a bit afterwards and we had really different perceptions of that possible heritage.  Andrew was disappointed and seemed to think that it was typical of our family to go for the comfortable, safe option.  I on the other hand understood it as being political, that they left because maybe  they didn’t believe in conscription or the nation-state.  It may have been an act of protest.  Of course it’s all speculation, it’s probably quite complex (isn’t everything? [no.]) and we may never understand the specifics of this.  But to me it’s gratifying to have another thread to follow to understand how I became a colonizer of this place–that there were specific pressures and conditions in the old country (hmm, do I want to keep using that phrase?) that were an important part of producing this situation.    Anyway, this guy also bought our grandfather’s army helmet at the estate sale last year when Gramma moved to the assisted living facility.  He brought us down to the basement of the American Legion where he keeps it.  Our grandfather wore this helmet (and cooked in it, and crapped in it, apparently) marching through Europe during World War II.   I mean…what the…?!

The funeral was good.  I say so in part because the occasion opened up other even greater continuities for me that I had maybe not known about, or at least been somewhat unconscious of because I took them for granted.  And that’s not that different from not knowing.   As happens at these things, people spoke of my Grandmother’s positive attributes.  She was generous, generous with money and things (she’s funded a lot of my art), but also generous in spirit.  She was open to giving of her self with people of all backgrounds, in a part of the world that is not exactly thought of as a progressive place.  It occurred to me as people spoke of her generosity that I am incredibly lucky to have had such a woman in my life all these years and that I have inherited the seeds of her generosity.    In my work as an artist–the arena where I work to have the greatest autonomy and do what is most important to me–I have strived to make that kind of generosity and openness of spirit, to practice it and to make places for it.   And now I understand that the extent I have ever been able to do that is due in large part to her.  Thank you Gramma Anderson.  I hope I can keep working to honor your generosity.

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