We drove across three states, as we always do, to visit the log house she built with her husband named for sunshine. And the ache was palpable, undulating with the rolling hills of Wyoming, as we faded in and out of sleep.
One could almost imagine the ruts family tires had made over years, like those wagon trains of the Oregon Trail and the migration paths of animals before them, taking the long drive home.
We all loved her, this pioneer founder of a small community in western Wyoming, this no-nonsense woman of another time who kept the chili hot and the cocoa steamy for scads of kids, who taught many a young person the proper way to make a fountain Cherry Coke at the pharmacy, who raised four girls and kept the home while her husband mountaineered and coached near every sport in town.
These people — Grandpa with the infectious crinkle-eyed, near-coughing laugh, Grandma with the subtle smirk and beauty shop hair and lovingly chiding “Daddy” and “You boys” — they are woven right into the fibers of my husband and his brothers, my daughters and nieces and nephews after them.
I’ve called her Grandma for years, too, because she made room for me.
Even when she reached mid-nineties, her face lit when kids entered the room, and she didn’t mind the noise nearly so much as you’d imagine. She watched the Utah Jazz on the big T.V. and knew the players right along with the whereabouts of all the family, passing on news to every one of us.
Grandma Fanny told stories in bits and pieces, over black and white photos of her as a stunner fresh out of beauty school, over the phone as we tried to learn family recipes — Michael and my mother-in-law gathering her “suggestions” and writing them in the crinkly book’s margins.
She and Miss Sally, her across the way neighbor and dear friend, looked out for each other through front windows, scooting walkers across the street, making sure each knew she was wanted as husbands and many many others passed on.
I see Grandma Fanny now like I expect to always, eyes softened with the adoring of grandchildren, holding out a life-weathered hand when the time’s come for goodbyes.