I’m finding it impossible to try and explain the magnitude of this to an outsider. An outsider meaning any person who does not understand the magic and history of the hill. Some of the magic and history will remain our family secret, but I’ll do my best to describe some.
On top of the hill sits a Matriarch with her wisdom, strength, pride, generosity and power. A matriarch is so magnetic that she draws those close to her like the planets to the sun. We are the planets and a matriarch is the sun, giving the planets warmth, energy and light. This Matriarch happens to be my Grandma.
When she built her home on the top of the hill we had no choice but to surround her with our own homes below. Our Grandmother had 6 children, all have lived, or still live on the hill. That’s where I lived and that’s where Melinda lived. Our Grandmother brought us Melinda, and Melinda brought us the boys, who all lived on the hill. Essentially every day of my childhood was spent on the hill with my cousins, “the boys”. Building forts, riding wagons down the steep hill into the street and sledding down the rocky hillside. A walk into the back of the canyon lead us to the ranch where we had a donkey named buttercup, an ostrich named Ruby, howling packs of coyotes and where we waited for horses to be born. Every day was an adventure. None like the last, each better than the one we had before.
Our Grandparents ran what they called “Camp Koonce”. All the cousins would flock to the top of the hill when they weren’t in school to Camp Koonce. It’s where our spirits were built. They had t-shirts made for all the cousins to wear those summers, baby blue with fuzzy white letters spelling out “Camp Koonce”. The summers when all we did was play in the canyon, make mischief and cool off in the pool. We never spent a holiday anywhere but there, never anywhere but with her. Of course that meant we were also never without Melinda, the youngest girl of our Grandmother’s six children. If I were to tell you about all the adventures we had on the hill, or the story of how we got there, I’d have thousands of pages to fill the insides of the most interesting book you’d never put down, and then I’d have to kill you. But I only have a blog and I’ve likely already lost some of your attention and I really don’t want to go to prison. My family is the shit. My grandmother, “The Matriarch” was a force. She was the glue, our gravity and the core of it all.
Melinda and the Matriarch were always together. They eventually lived together on the hill in the house the boys grew up in after my grandfather passed away, years after the house on the top of the hill burned down. They became even more dependent on one another as the years went by. That house became the house we all gathered, because that was where the matriarch was. She always brought us home, always pulled us together. She made us a family who buries secrets for each other. The kind of family you would consider doing bad things for if there were a half good reason. We took on strays too, making our family bigger as the years went by.
Melinda worried what would happen to her when her mother would pass. Our Grandmother was getting older, yet she was determined to outlive us all, and there were days I could be convinced that she would. I think Melinda feared that she would have no force without the Matriarch. Melinda was a tiny woman standing less than 5 feet, but her lack of height she made up for with heart. It’s as though the two were the perfect balance. Melinda was so filled with emotion and almost fragile, yet never broke no matter what she took on, while my grandmother could topple you over with a single look. I know powerful men who cowered beneath her. I know powerful men whose power she gave, and as quickly as she gave, she could take it just the same.
Melinda had suffered from MS for as long as I can remember, yet never letting it bring her down. Because of her family and her faith in God, she always had a smile on her face. Her Granddaughters were her everything, and when the family was around she absolutely lit up, so the family came around often. We gathered around the two of these women, and they became the reason we would all come together. We thought we had more time with Grandma, and we knew for certain we would have more years with Melinda, even though she never wanted to live without her mother.
My grandmother fell ill with pneumonia and sepsis, like she has before. When she went to the hospital we thought we could be close to losing our force. After bouncing back and claiming she would live 5 more years, things turned quickly. Grandma’s force was not as strong, and she said she was “ready”. When Melinda heard the news that her mother would be released from the hospital on hospice, she got sick with an infection, which she has had many times before. The two women became roommates again in the same hospital room, both in a sleep not knowing the other was doing the same.
When Grandma left the hospital to go home, we all gathered around her bed giving the space the warmth and light we got from her. We told stories and laughed in her room filled with family and friends. In the end I was stroking her hair telling her how beautiful she still was, and talking with one of “the boys” about times as kids on the hill. Her eyes opened a bit and she had a look like she was searching for something, for someone, and that was it. The matriarch was gone. I walked into her closet and searched for something for her to wear, not knowing what else I could do. I’m immediately filled with guilt that I didn’t bring the kids over more often. But my lesson is not to take the ones who are still here for granted, because as fast as they come they go. Even in death the Matriarch teaches me.
Melinda does not know her mother is dead. She still has not woken up and no one knows why. Her hospital room is filled with friends and family. The people she has touched over the years pray by her side. I think my Grandmother could not bear to leave her behind, and Melinda so desperately did not want to be left. Never had a day gone by they hadn’t spoken, and maybe they were talking just then. In the end I was holding her son who was holding her, my hand on her petite leg, her youngest talking to her on speaker so desperately trying to get there in time, her sister and best friend singing her song to her, “My Melinda”. Her eyes opened a bit and she had a look like she had found someone, and that was it. 34 hours after the matriarch had left she found her youngest girl and took her, neither woman having to mourn the loss of the other, as neither knew the other was gone. No one deserved to meet her maker more than Melinda and Grandma knew it.
So here we are, a family whose lost their glue, their sun and their gravity. But gathering at your home today without the two of you, it sure didn’t feel empty. We still gathered, told stories, laughed and felt connected. The space was still filled with the warmth and light we got from you. We are just missing the two who used to bring us together, The Matriarch and her light filled girl. We are still the same family, just in mourning, and in need of a Matriarch and a light filled girl. Maybe someone else will step up to the plate. You never know, maybe that someone is me.