These are my grandparents, Wayne Carlton Hill and Daythel Inez Wright (who's always gone by Inez, or Inie) in 1947 in front of Shafter High School (in California's central valley), where they met a few years before they were married. In 1952 Wayne's mother, Maggie Lorene, had a house built directly across the street. Wayne & Inie moved in when she died in 1986 and have lived there, with a view of the school out their kitchen window, ever since. They've been married over 60 years now.
I've never shied away from thinking about aging and death, even as a child. But I've never felt these truths of life so viscerally, never seen them so clearly, as I did on our recent trip to visit my family. All my kinfolk know of my interest in genealogy by now, so I am lucky enough to be besought with old stories, newspaper cutouts, and photographs when we visit. And my grandparents have always had an entire hallway wall full of old photos, including this one. I love seeing them in their youth, fresh and happy and with their whole lives ahead of them.
When you're young, your whole life seems like eternity. When you're old, it seems to have gone past in the blink of an eye.
Grandpa Wayne and Grandma Inie are in their 80s now. He is dying in a rest home, after a heart attack and a hospital infection rendered him bed-ridden a few months ago. He is emaciated, wasting away. He can hardly speak; it comes out in choked whispers. We weren't even allowed to hug him, for fear of catching his virus. It seemed he had aged decades since we saw him last, a year ago. I will probably never see him again.
Grandma has no physical pain, but she is slipping farther and farther into Alzheimer's every time we visit. She remembers the important things, the family ties. While we were in the rest home she turned to me and Lacey and said simply "That's my husband". She asks about how the people who have been close to her are doing. She never forgot Mycie's name or who she was, even calling her Mycelia sometimes too. Though she does get confused about whose child she is, since Mycie sticks to my sister like glue whenever they're together. And she does call my dad Wayne a lot. But to be fair, he really has come to resemble his father.
My dad moved down to Shafter last year to take care of his aging parents. Not too long after that his brother Terry moved in with them also. It was the four of them under one roof again, but under such different circumstances than 60 years ago when Wayne & Inie were in their early 20s farming and raising two small sons. Now it is the offspring taking care of those who gave them life. Grandpa Wayne will never come home again, and it is only the three of them for now.
My dad and Uncle Terry have aged measurably too, burdened with the pressure of tending to a house filled with objects and memories, a house that has only ever belonged to our family. Trying to sort through their parents finances and making end of life decisions has left a cloud of despair hanging over their heads. The Hill men have always been prone to over-worry and depression.
But not Grandma. Her memory, her independent life, and her family are slipping away from her. And yet. She is grateful and happy for what she has and what was given to her in her lifetime. She comes from (or come from, as she'd say) simple Arkansas folk, though she moved to California as a baby. I like to think that there was something about her people that infused her spirit with a realistic optimism about the wonders and the simultaneous hardships of life.
At the beginning she says "We might go see Wayne today". I love the first part of this spontaneous, sneaky video I shot of her because you can see the Alzheimer's in action, and the strange way the memory loss mixes with things long remembered. I love the second part because she often compliments me on what I'm wearing. Clothing seems to be one of the few things her mind still notices in the moment, and I can sure imagine myself being the same way at that age. And I *love* the last part beyond words and thoughts and straight into feeling and love. The "why not" makes me tear up every time.
I knew both of her parents, Lewis and Gladys May Wright, when they were her age and I was Mycie's age, and I am keenly aware that Mycie is seeing her now as I saw them then. As sweet and loving but very, very old. Older that she'll ever get. Older than I'll ever get. Older than my parents will ever get. Except that they're already almost there. And next it's me. And then it's Mycie.
And on and on in an eternal cycle of love and gratitude and birth and death and laughter and memories and always, always new life ❤