I pulled up to the old yet beautiful farm house with my Mom during my Michigan spring break trip. "Do you want to go see the farm?" she had asked. No one lives here any longer but she still has the key, and I was never able to truly say 'good-bye' after my Grandma's passing. Snow was falling around us (yes, in April!) but we drove the two minutes down the road anyway. She handed me the key and allowed me to be the first to enter.
The entryway is first, where Gram's coat always hung, and her winter boots caught my eyes. The puffy, grey jacket, her head wrapped in a scarf and those black 'moon boots' are in most of my cold-weather childhood memories. "Wow, it's freezing," I said quietly. "But I can still envision her here." Whenever I walked up the wooden steps to the front porch, I was embraced with an overwhelming sense of love. This was my safe-haven, my home away from home, and as I walked, it all came flooding back.
The moment I walked in the front door, an array of senses always greeted me. This time wasn't much different, except the fact that the house was freezing cold (no utilities anymore) and I knew she wasn't sitting around the corner in her comfy lounge chair. As a kid, she and I spent a lot of our time together in the kitchen. I remember her garden and how I could spend hours helping her pick tomatoes straight from their vines. The kitchen window overlooked the space, where there were mounds of green and a tree-swing that swayed back and forth. She would carefully wash the vegetables in the sink and as she did, I sat at the pull-out wooden cutting board (that mind you, I thought was THE coolest appliance) eating sliced bananas with peanut butter.
There used to be a gray stool. Over the years different house cats thought it was the comfiest nap place, but for all of my childhood, I remember using the stool to sit at the cutting board. Gram would bake cookies like it was her job, as well as pies. As she baked or prepped meals, I sat and listened. I'm sure I chatted her ear off, talking about animals and my then-beginning dream of owning a horse. Bird trinkets and plants always had their home on that window-sill and I remember well her explaining the uniqueness between Cardinals and Bluejays. (The cutting board here isn't the original, luckily my mom actually took that for me to cherish as a keepsake. Pulling it out though regardless, brought back so many vivid pictures as I reminisced.)
I'd obviously never been in the house with it empty. Things looked so much bigger to me without the antique furniture and large dining room table. The chandelier hung sturdily from its' normal spot. My brother Sean and I spent so many nights around the table, looking into the 'TV room' as we called it. We would play for hours during the day and beg Gram to spend the night. "Call your mom," she would say. "And we'll put out the couch bed for you if she says yes." I'm pretty sure Mom always said yes. Our houses were within walking distance to each other and it was never hard for us to come back home.
I remember laughter within this room. My Uncle Steve, who lived all of his life here except when he attended college at MSU, would chase us around the table and deep belly laughs would explode from us. Everyone always has that 'one Uncle,' and he was ours. Grandma would close the double doors when Sean and I slept over and as soon as we woke, she would be making our breakfast in the kitchen. If she wasn't preparing food, she was sitting at the dining room table, with her Bible wide open. It was in this place that I learned so much about Jesus. I grew up with God loving parents, but I spent so many hours reading aloud from the large print Bible she had. We would memorize Scripture together and she would tell me stories about the people it talked about. We also listened to books on tape so regularly--I loved sitting beside her, having moments of peace and quiet.
The last memory I have with her, is in this room. My son Pierson was thirteen months old, and she was sipping some coffee at the table. I was pregnant with our daughter Reese and she rubbed my belly. "Can you see me?" I asked. "Oh I can see. That's a nice sized baby in there," she said. Reese was due just two months later but something inside of me knew Grandma wouldn't get to meet her. Pierson sat beside her, playing with her house phone. I swear whenever she saw him, she suddenly looked ten years younger. He brought her so much joy, so much life. When I left for college and would visit the Farm, I would say to Gram, "I'll see you next time I come home." She would shake her head and respond, "Oh I'm not sure about that, we'll have to see." I would laugh and hug her with my entire body weight as she sat in her armchair. My mom's phone call, a month before Reese was born, told me the news I had been dreading for so long. I have entries in a journal that I started keeping as a very young little girl, that wrote the prayer: "Please let Grandma live one more year," each New Years Eve. Finally, August 2013, Jesus decided He had answered that request long enough and it was time to take her Home.
As I walked, Mom started to share her memories. There's no other person I could have done this with than my mother--Gram was her very best friend. They spoke daily on the phone, multiple times a day, just as I do with her. She told me how as kids, they listened through the vents to their parents conversations, how she sat at the same pull-out cutting board as she watched her mom de-seed fresh green beans. Through these walls, deep within the wood and wallpaper, my mom grew from child to woman; from daughter to mother; from mother to grandma herself.
We walked around the corner and there was Gram's teeny tiny bedroom. I laughed and said, "I still don't know how she ever shared this room with Grandpa!" I was six months old when my Grandpa passed away. The memories I have here include lying in Gram's full-sized water bed. We would listen to lullabies on tape or stories being told, and she would always pray aloud. I remember being semi freaked out when I realized she had dentures and she would need to take them out each night. She also had hearing aides that she needed to take out, but she always waited until the last minute when I slept over.
We walked to the stairs. For whatever reason, holidays are what stood out to me when I got to them. The wooden steps, they seemed never-ending when I was small. I remember a Christmas spent there with a ton of my cousins, some even from California. I was so young, but I remember cracking up at my cousin Sherry, who was one from Cali. Sean and I and some of the others sat in the stairwell there and she told us all sorts of stories, including one about a guardian angel. I then remember (and am now laughing at the weirdness in my sporadic memories) my Uncle Steve teaching us the song, "Comet - it makes your teeth turn green! Comet - it tastes like gasoline! Comet - it makes you vomit...So buy some and vomit, today!" We thought this was hysterical and went around the house chanting the rhyme.
Upstairs there are two bedrooms and a bathroom. My mom switched bedrooms as a child, but in the blue one, she said she spent hours writing and journaling. My Grandpa even turned her little closet into a "writing nook," and strung an extension cord uniquely so that she could have a lamp.
She sighed as we walked through and said she would be awake until sometimes three in the morning (as she got older) just writing here. She told me about her childhood fear, which I had never known: she wasn't ever scared of monsters under the bed, but foxes! She would run and jump from the hallway into the bed. It amazed me to think of the children who once lived here. The bedrooms that housed them, the memories that exist for the eight who called it a home. I always either slept with Gram in her water bed or on the couch bed with my brother. I never came upstairs much, but it's so sweet to think of my mom here, once a little girl, journaling her fears and happiness.
When Mom had originally asked if I wanted to visit the Farm, she warned me that it would be cold. At this point I was starting to shiver a little because I hadn't taken into consideration that seriously... there was no HEAT in the house anymore. We made our way back to the stairs and I told her I wanted to sit just for a second. I wanted to look into the dining room and envision Gram all over again.
Like everybody else, my life isn't and wasn't perfect. I remember many fights that I had at home, that resulted in me running across the corn field to this place. Gram would hold me tightly and now as I write remembering, tears are finding their escape. She had the firmest grip--"Let's just pray," she would say. On her lap I would sit, even in my teenager years, and she would stroke my hair and listen to my sorrows. When she met my husband Asa, she would squeeze him tightly too, and I knew she was relieved that I had found him.
Grandma was a widow for twenty eight years. One of my visits with her, I found a handful of her old journals. "Gram, can I have one of these?" I asked. "Oh sure," she responded. "I'm not sure what's in there that's interesting but you're welcome." I took one leather bound journal and the moment I began it, I couldn't put it down. One of the entries she wrote from the tree-swing. She talked about how she "missed her John." Not once did I ever hear my Grandma complain. Not once did I look at her in her elderly age and think she was ever weak.
Often, I have days with my two toddlers, who are fifteen months apart, and I want to scream. They are wonderful and hilarious, but gosh they are exhausting and draining too. One of the times I remember her the most is when I am mopping our hundred year old wooden floors--I remember her voice, about how a "good old fashioned mop and bucket of soapy water cleans the best." I usually pause and close my eyes...Gram raised EIGHT children in this house--EIGHT. She had a servant's heart, a righteous laugh and warm hugs for anyone who was blessed to enter.
The old barns are such an important part of my memories as well. At one point my Uncle had horses there (they of course had them when my mom was young too), but I remember first horse rides, first horse falls, and the moment I fell in love with a Thoroughbred mix. Through the pastures I played 'tag' with a beautiful Arabian colt, I was trampled by a foal, and I had to say my first good-bye to a beautiful white horse named Joy, who suffered from colic.
On the silo my Grandpa had hand painted this verse: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures," (1 Corinthians 15:30). Mom and I walked through the barns, stopping to talk about the many sheep that were born and raised there; the hay still somehow smelled fresh and I while I walked, I managed to get some poop on the bottom of my boot. "Only you," my mom laughed. We looked around the empty fields. No kittens, no ewes, no horses, no fences. So what still exists? Her legacy. Almost the entire city of Allegan knows and remembers Wilma Rouse, as well as her husband John.
Now more than ever, do I believe that God allows the seasons in our lives to change just as He does with the seasons in nature. Right now, spring is trying to figure out its' path--do the trees bloom, or will it continue to snow a while longer? Hearts may ache, and we may question why, but our Creator knows. There may be pain and sadness with sharing this story, but there are also beautiful stories and happy memories that need to be heard and THOSE will never die.