I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.
But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.
Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.
Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.
Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:
Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)
There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.
As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.
In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.