Whenever my mom and I have a conversation, it usually goes something like this.
MOM: What are you doing today?
ME: Trying to get lined up. What are you doing today?
MOM: Oh, you know. Trying to get lined up, too.
In this case, "lined up" does not mean "going out on a blind date." Trust me. Both my mother and I are way past the blind date stage of our lives.
No. "Lined up" is another way the women in our family have of saying, "I’m trying to get myself organized, dammit!" It’s something my mother’s grandmother used to say all the time whenever people asked her what she was doing. Apparently my great-grandmother spent her entire adult life trying to get organized.
That is, when she wasn’t busy shooting something.
My great-grandmother left her home in the Midwest as a young woman, worked for the railroads in Ogden and eventually landed in Wyoming. Along the way she shed a husband and her real name — then acquired a new husband and a new name (she called herself Patti) that she liked better than the old one (Martha). She also scared up a fishing rod and a shotgun and became the acting game warden of Sublette County. From all reports she was crazy smart, crazy generous, crazy fun to be around, crazy messy.
And yeah. Probably just a little plain old crazy, too.
When I knew my great-grandmother she’d settled down into deep old age. She was white-haired and frail as sparrow bones. Grandma Pat remained eager to laugh at a good story when people visited but spent most of her days sitting quiet. I only know my vivid great-grandmother through family stories and those words of hers that we still quote.
I’m trying to get lined up.
Whenever I say them, I feel connected to her, just like I feel connected to the owner of the old 8th Avenue Market, Bill Spencer, whenever my friends and I quote him. Which we do. Often. Bill said a lot of memorable things during his long lifetime, but my favorite was his response whenever you told him that someone had died.
"Hell," he’d say, "they’re lucky to be out of this mess."
The funny thing about this — besides the fact that it’s just funny — is that Bill was a guy who was full of positive energy. He worked from sunup to sundown six days a week until the very end — stocking shelves, cutting meat behind the butcher’s counter, telling you how to cook it, waiting on customers, asking those customers about their kids and siblings, parents and grandparents. And then he’d tell you about his family, too — especially the grandchildren who were learning remarkable things about computers in their school.
I’ll sometimes quote my friend Marilyn, too. Marilyn had a big, big personality. She loved huge silver rings! Old movies! Antique dolls and teddy bears! Barbra Streisand! Poodles! Quilts! And she started most of what she said with one of these two phrases: "The thing of it is (fill in the blank)" or "I never in my whole life (also fill in the blank)." I wish I could hear her great gravelly voice say either of those things just one more time.
The words we speak. They operate like connective tissues when you think about it.
Keeping the people we miss at our sides for just a little longer.
Ann Cannon can be reached at email@example.com
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