Goodbye

In the cold, she stood. There she would stand until we were gone. It was now just a waiting game.

Last week, on Thanksgiving Thursday, I was reminded of a simple act that has made its way into my family’s culture. It’s not a set-in-stone tradition. It is also not a live-or-die situation either. It’s just one of those things that happens now because someone did it and we were reminded of this action—repeatedly. However, if it sounds like I am bothered by it, I am not. I don’t mind at all.

When, as a child, I used to live in Montana, my family would make the hours-long journey to Utah, in the summertime, and spend about a week with my father’s mother. My dad’s sister and her family lived in the same town and his other sister’s family would come up from Virginia to visit at about the same time we did. This made a great family reunion time. Family vacation with some of the best people I have ever known.

One of the greatest things I could ever recall about these summer getaways was how I was treated. Being one of the younger children it would have been easy to be overlooked, ignored, bullied, or a hundred other things that could occur between older relatives and their younger cousins. Not mine. Nope. We all got along just fine. Age never really mattered. We could chat and play and just be. No pressure. Seriously… Really great people.

Sadly, eventually, the week would end and my family would have to make the long drive back to Montana. Say what you will about seatbelt laws, back then, there weren’t any, and the ability to lay about the car—on the floor, backs of seats, in the windows, upsidedown, under the seats (you could do that, there was space), on each other, across the seats like a log…—made everything better and the entire trip bearable. Especially since it was an eight-hour drive. So-o-o-o much better…

I can recall the many, many times we would load the luggage, hug grandma goodbye, climb into the family vehicle, and then back the car out of the house’s driveway. And every time, there she would stand, right by her door. Sometimes the door would be left open, sometimes not. Regardless, there she stood. The Sentinel: My grandmother. She wouldn’t go in until we waved and were out of sight. It kept us safe from harm. And, since we never had an accident, it must have worked. Statistics support my claim.

Once, we had left something behind, had to turn around to get it, and there she still stood. Like she never moved. When asked about why she was still outside, her response was, “I didn’t see you wave goodbye.” So we quickly learned that if we left in the dark hours, we needed to turn on the car’s ceiling light so grandma could witness the farewell waves. My mother used to joke about waving to grandma otherwise she would never go inside and we would find her still standing there the next time we came to visit. That next year we drove up to find her sitting in her porch seat that was right next to her door. She had never made it back inside her house. We must not have waved.

Mom had been right. Joking, but right.

My grandmother’s last home (from Google, 2012). Just to the right of the car is the doorway where she would stand. The cold and wind would still blow right in. There she would stand until we waved and were out of sight.

Years later, when we moved to Manti, where my grandmother lived, there would be many a late, and cold winter’s night when we would leave my grandmother’s home with winds blasting ice and snow in horizontal rows. My mother would scold us children to hurry up and get in the car so grandma wouldn’t freeze. She never went inside until there were hands waving and our car was out of sight. We would forgo buckling our seatbelts (there were laws by that time) just so we could get out of the driveway so grandma would go back inside. Nothing ever fazed her. Her dedication to the ‘Goodbye’ was more reliable than Old Faithful, and more firm than granite.

Why do I bring this up? You may ask. Well, we do it now. The ‘we’ of this is no longer my father, mother, sisters, and brother. The ‘we’ now are my wife and I. We now stand at the door in the cold, rain, sun, dark, whatever. As my children have grown, left the house, and continue to leave the house (they come back to visit), my wife and I carry on a tradition that my father’s mother had begun. This has carried over to my sister and her family, and my other sister and her family. My other sister (my brother’s first wife—we love her so much) and her family too… Yeah, when family comes to visit, we see them on their way when the time comes for them to depart—like the Sentinals my grandmother taught us to be.

I hadn’t really thought about the origins of this simple tradition. It’s just a thing we do. The departees wave as they well, depart. Those left behind wave back and watch as the vehicle drives away. One last set of eyes upon them for safety. All of these things I was reminded of last Thursday—Thanksgiving—as my oldest son and his wife drove away. Because, there I stood. And did stand until they were gone. It was just another waiting game.

My father’s mother. Long since passed. Sentinal ’till the last.
Such a kind woman.

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