My Great-Grandmother’s Dove

Something shook me from my slumber. I’m not sure what it was  – maybe the soft cinnamon light that filled the bedroom, or the way that the blinds split the morning sunbeams into narrow slices that graced the floor. Maybe it was the gentle shh as the waves slid across the shore, tickling the sand and then drawing back into itself, or the smell of fresh grass. Whatever it was, it drew me out from under my cave of blankets and into the day. I was awake.

The carpet swallowed my footsteps as I tiptoed across the quaint attic bedroom, careful not to wake my sister, who was still asleep. I crept down the creaky, narrow staircase leading to the second floor and turned to face the windows. Outside, the sky was a pale blue, shivering with ghostly sunshine, early light that wasn’t quite real. The rolling hills were still covered in shadow. I looked at the clock. 5:10.

I went outside. The chilled air held all the promise of the new day and it scampered up my arms, raising goose bumps. The grass was still wet from the morning round of sprinklers and squirmed around my toes as I walked towards the beach. Although I was already cold, I sank my feet into the frigid waters of the lake, because the moment was too perfect not to. Inspired, I turned off my cellphone and let myself fall back against the faded planks of the dock and spread my arms wide, embracing the day that was about to be reborn. Ribbons of cloud bent and twisted through the sky. The world was fixed in a magical limbo – so bursting with life, but not yet awake. No, the only voices were the whispering of the waves and the wind and the rhythmic coo of my great-grandmother’s dove.

Sitting alone, on the dock, I thought of her. On lazy summer mornings she would lounge on the porch, gazing out at the shimmering blue lake and the family she began. The dove echoed, somewhere off in the treetops – cu cu, cu cu. cu cu, cu cu. And  she would call back. See here, Gannon, she said, my little dove has come to visit me.

She was so old – 97 in August – and was beginning to forget.
But just as the sky gave hints at what it might become, she too told us who she once was, in subtle, but strong ways. That was her – subtle, but strong. The wife of an apple farmer, mother of four children, and baker of the best damn pie on the east side of the mountains. She was 25 years old when she started a family on the shores of Lake Chelan, planting orchards and living the small-town American dream alongside the love of her life. She was tough, and she had to be – to live through the turmoil of the 20th century, corral four rowdy children into compliance, and  help run the family business. When I was younger, my sister and I would gather on the carpet around her, eager, and she told us stories of the world she had lived in; stories about raising our grandmother and surviving the war and how sometimes she would just get in her car and drive because she was so, so free. She told us about the scent of spring in the orchards and pushing her grandchildren in a wheelbarrow filled with crackling red leaves and everything that happened before we were born. Over the years, the one-story house her husband had built for her ballooned into a three-story home, filling itself with voices and with memories.

As the head of the family, she was loving and watchful; subtle, but strong. And now here she was, softening in the sun as her memory faded, calling back to a dove which she didn’t really own, but which was free, free as she once was, and as we all wish to be.

I wondered what it would be like to live that long. To see your whole life, looking back, a tapestry of elation and doubt.
Somewhere in her addled mind, my great-grandma knew so much – more than anyone younger could ever know. She knew the regrets that gnaw at your conscience, the pain of watching her friends, husband, and sons die before her eyes, the strength required to do what is right, to lead, to love, and to forgive. The world she had lived in was a world long gone; it had shifted little by little, under the cover of night, until one day she opened her eyes and found herself stranded. I’m sure she thought a lot, and her wisdom-filled mind was bursting like the morning sky that yawned before me. But she couldn’t let her thoughts out of her head, so I would have to find the truths of this world myself.

Just then, the first rays of dawn alighted on the mountaintops, across the waters which now were a mirror to the brightening sky.

I watched as the hills were painted in a tangerine light, and each crag and crest and canyon was filled, and their features shone and came to life. The sunrise is the death of the past and the birth of the future, but the past never really dies; it stays with you, guiding you, inspiring you, reminding you who you are.

So, as the sun rose higher, spilling over the peaks and valleys, and the world began to wake up, I made a promise – to live life to the fullest, every day that I could, so that when I sat on the porch calling to some far-off dove, I would be happy. A promise to myself, and to my great-grandmother.

Gannon Forsberg is the 16 year-old great-grandson of Helen K. Clements - a long time (+ 70 year) Chelan resident - who died recently.

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