That's me in the hat. I was two years old. The other child is my cousin Tony, age 1, and my grandmother, Ilene Hall Maxey, who would have been 48 at the time. She passed away on Tuesday last week at the age of 92.
She lived alone in her own home; she was far too independent ever to move in with one of her children. And, in my memories, it's difficult to untangle memories of my grandmother from memories of her house. She lived out in the country in a stone house built by her husband and children. Going there when I was a child was alway an adventure. There were fields of corn my great-grandfather used to plant that I remember running through, an old barn I used to climb around in, and seemingly endless woods I used to explore with my cousins.
More significantly, though, her house was a library. My grandfather, Sidney Maxey, had subscribed to National Geographic non-stop since the 1940s and there were stacks of the magazines everywhere you looked. He also was an accumulator of paperback books, which he kept on shelves out on his porch where they would turn yellow, their covers falling off, but oh, oh, oh, how I loved the smell of those old books, and how I would dig through them, searching for pulpy science fiction. Grandfather apparently had a taste for fringe science, so I also remember books about the bermuda triangle and Atlantis and ancient astronauts. I first read Charles Forte's "Wild Talents" among his collection. To this day, my reading preferences are shaped by those never ending stacks of decaying pulp.
One specific memory of my grandmother that still touches me comes not from my childhood, but from when I was in my late twenties. I'd just gotten divorced, and felt like the biggest failure in the world. My family was getting together for some sort of reunion, and I dreaded having to walk in and tell every one the news of my divorce. But, when I told my grandmother the news, she just shrugged it off, with, "Well, you're not the first Maxey ever to get divorced." She really didn't seem phased by the news at all, nor did her opinion of my seem to be lowered. It's easy to see now that the bonds of family are much tougher than the setbacks of a life that unfold day to day or year by year. You just shrug off the bad stuff, move on, remain family.
One final note: As I was standing by her grave, reflecting on the fact that she was 92, I was trying to take comfort that, hey, if I lived as long as her, I'd have another fifty years. But, of course, I instantly recognized that my math was off, and recalculated. I'm 46 now. That means... I'm exactly half the age she was when she passed away. So, why is it I still feel like a child so much of the time? Why do I feel pretty much the way I did when I was twenty; I'm in the body of an adult, but when it comes to handling adult matters, I still feel every day like I'm just making it up as I go along?
Did the woman in the photograph above, age 48, feel like she was winging it? Does this feeling last, perhaps, all the way to 92?