In the photo, the crone perches on a bench,
squinting behind wire rims.
Properly dressed in pumps, hose and beads,
her hands hide under the tea towel she embroiders.
My father said his Aunt Julia returned once a year
in summer to help butcher hogs.
He said she homesteaded in the Dakotas.
That is all I know about my namesake.
But I can imagine.
How she listened to the night wind sweep past her house,
and how she dreamed of anywhere else but here.
How she turned down the shy farmer one town over,
and married the cheeky peddler who sharpened knives.
How she agreed to move with her young husband
far from family and friends
to 160 acres in the middle of nowhere.
How she fought for what must fit in the shallow wagon box.
How she left behind her cedar chest, her books.
How people didn’t wave when they drove through town after town.
How, when they arrived, their claim didn’t look
anything like the posters.
How she lived in a dugout for five years
before first a barn and then a proper house were built.
How she lost two babies to scarlet fever.
How her husband walked off into a blizzard and never returned.
How she married a widower with five children who spoke only Russian.
How the meadowlarks sang on spring mornings.
How the pigs squealed when she sharpened
her dead husband’s knives.
How the wind never, ever stopped.
In the photo, my namesake looks directly at the camera,
her mouth set in a straight line like a Dakota horizon.
Between her brows, two deep furrows
like a plowed field,
My mother, Irene Fischer Meylor, poses for my father on their honeymoon in 1949. She had turned 19 just a month earlier. I found this curled negative in my Dad’s files, and had it printed.
Dad said some days were better than others.
On those days he’d see Mom walk
into the bedroom with his folded clothes
or pass by the living room with a dust cloth.
He’d smell bread baking
or coffee brewing in the kitchen.
Just a glimpse or a whiff.
Just enough, he said.
Once, he said, when he drove uptown
for the mail, he fell asleep, slumped
behind the wheel in a parking lot.
He woke to rapping on his window.
“Jerry, wake up. You’re late. It’s time!”
She looked right at him, he said.
And then she was gone.
At Dad’s funeral, my brother tells us his dream.
He’s sitting in a bar with Dad having a drink.
And Mom walks in. She tells Dad to get home.
And he follows her out the door.
That’s it. That’s the dream, Ken says.
On better days,
I can still hear Dad singing.
It’s just enough.
The longer she kept walking forward, the less often she looked back.
The less often she wanted to turn around.
The less often she waited to see if anyone was coming up behind her.
She liked the sound her sneakers made on the gravel roadway.
She could hear a creek running far below.
She could see the morning steam rising off the hillside.
She knew wherever the road led would be fine.
Because she’d never been there before.