When I was younger, we would spend the 4th of July and Christmas at my Dad's folks' place. They lived in an old converted schoolhouse about fifteen miles north of Pawhuska, OK. It sat on two acres and the only traffic that old gravel road ever saw were from few-and-far-between neighbors. Dad was raised out there, as were my aunt and uncle. We visited at other times, of course, and I also visited my Mom's folks in Barnsdall, OK semi-regularly. At some point, those visits started waning.
I was somewhat close to most of my cousins. Nobody ever fought or anything. In the mid-nineties, we didn't go to my Mom's folks much anymore after some heavy family drama, but visits to Hardy and Gail (Dad's parents) continued. In 1997, my aunt Kim passed away from cancer. It was hard on the family (as would be expected) and it happened right around the time us kids were getting to an age where family gatherings started to lose their luster. Factor in the age of my grandparents and a few other things and it wasn't long before the normal gatherings dwindled and then turned into visits too shamefully rare to mention. It's nobody's fault, it just happened. Now it's uncommon that I ever get up to Pawhuska and see the rest of my family there. I keep telling myself I'll do better, but I haven't yet.
I remember seeing Grandpa Hardy in the hospital not long before he passed. He was sitting up and had several tubes attached to his face. He smiled when I came into the room; a smile that assured me there was still lucidity and understanding. He couldn't really talk, but he reached out to shake my hand. I know he wanted to show me how strong his grip was. I shook his hand and smiled generously. He had no strength left. This was a man that I'd always known could crush every bone in my hand if he ever decided to. He had whittled down to this. That's one thing I'm thankful for with my father; he didn't have to go through that process of withering. He just went.
I look now and my Grandma Mary, on Mom's side, is the only grandparent left. We have scares pretty regularly and I know it's not going to be long before she's gone, too. I haven't seen her since before Dad passed. I'm afraid if I go visit I'll be greeted with a version of her I don't want committed to memory. I'm not close to that side of the family at all anymore, and that's a sad thing.
Every time Mom and I get together, she says, "Don't be a stranger!" as we part. I know she wants to see me more. She doesn't live that far away, only twenty minutes. It's not a big deal. But I don't see her but once every few weeks. I feel guilty about it often. I love my mother very much. We get along great. I don't know why I am not putting in a greater effort, or why I even need to put in an effort at all. It vexes me, because I don't have many relations left. "Life gets busy" is not a valid excuse.