Most often, I was swept back to September. To all the Septembers.
For it was usually in September that my grandparents were free to make their annual trip from Southern California to Southwest Washington. And so the old song made its way into our visits: "See you . . . in September . . . ." We'd dramatically croon our goodbyes; yet somehow the hope of September always made those goodbyes less melancholy. (It was never really "goodbye," however. Nanee preferred the farewell that ran more along the lines of, "See you next time. See you in September.")
The Septembers quickly piled up like so many treasured gold coins. The events in them were simple enough. Everyday events, like getting perms and sunning ourselves at Klineline, eating Tillamook Burgers and shopping at Ross. Yet they each had a golden glow to them. For it was September, and Nanee was a part of them.
She was right.
The years slipped by. Their bodies aged, yet Nanee and Grandpa still made an effort to "See you in September." At first they drove up -- Nanee loved being seated behind the wheel -- but then it became apparent that flying would be best. All too soon, even that mode of transportation proved too arduous, and so a more permanent transportation was decided upon. They moved to Washington.
It was an honor to share that season of life with them. Indeed, to share all the seasons. For it was not only September now, but December and April and July and everything else in between. This meant that we also shared in the suffering that comes with aging. At first Nanee was up for lunch dates at Beaches, our favorite haunt ("Let's have calamari!"), or trips to Target and Ross.
We even snuck in a spontaneous mani-pedi on the hottest day of the year. (I could't help but laugh over the spectacle we must have made, me wielding Nanee's wheelchair in a skirt with a fresh pedicure, shuffling in those cumbersome, salon-issued, yellow foam "flip-flops." Did I mention it was 100 degrees?)
Yet it soon became clear that even brief outings were just not as feasible as they once were. So we brought the entertainment to her. I read from Little Women, family brought movies and burgers, and our world became very small.
At the same time, our world grew to be very large. For Nanee loved a captive audience and could tell a story like none other. (She wrote not one but three family memoirs.) Gesturing with her ever-expressive and graceful hands, she told us about the war years and her brothers' assignments overseas. Her eyes sparkled as she talked about dances on the lawn, dates at the burger joint, and hitting the town in Navy pea coats with her best friend, Helene.
She especially loved to tell us about going to the movies in the 40s and snacking on huge dill pickles while watching the greats like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. "People around us would hear us chomping away and move to different seats. We couldn't figure out why!" We grew starry-eyed every time she told us about getting a smile and wave from Bob Hope and an autograph from Clark Gable. (Frantically rifling through her purse for a scrap of paper that day on Wilshire Boulevard, Mr. Gable anticipated her hope. He pulled a dollar bill from his own pocket, signed it, and gave it to her!)
The stories became jumbled as the months wore on. "Have I already told you this, honey? Stop me if I have." She had, but I told her I wanted to hear it again. She was happy to oblige. Soon, she began to add more to her stories. It was as though she felt a sense of urgency, and it was time to impart the most important words, the most important truths. "The years go quickly, honey. Hang on to every moment," she said. I certainly tried to hang on to those moments as she shared, realizing with each passing day that one of them would eventually be our last.
As she reflected in those last months, Nanee knew that she had been blessed. Blessed with life, blessed with an ever-growing family, blessed with the faithfulness of a Savior who had carried her through each of those stories. She summed it up even as she knew her time was approaching, even as the final golden moon beckoned on the horizon. "It's been a wonderful life," she reflected. The wooden blocks stacked near her bed, to which she often pointed, spelled out her mantra: J-O-Y.
I'm a girl in Keds again. My perm bobs, and Nanee is wearing her gold shoes. ("I'm not sure if grandmas can wear gold shoes," she laughs, "but that's okay!") We're strolling, hand-in-hand, pulled irresistibly toward the soft light at the end of the road. Our words are hushed. It's time to go home. I remind myself that it's not really goodbye, it's, "See you in September."
In a flash, all is quiet. I turn in awe, witness to the dawning of Nanee's eternal September. Her best story has just begun.