“It’s time to take you home. Just sit right here Dad,” my Uncle Bob says to my grandfather. I get in on the other side of my Aunt Sally and Uncle Jim’s car. My uncle is the backseat with my grandfather and I. We are about to head over the mountain to North Adams. My Aunt sits down in the car and we wave off my grandmother. She is in my mom’s car for the ride home because at least there she could smoke her cigarettes. Plus she didn’t want to ride along with my grandfather. She couldn’t even look at him.
He was still my goofy grandpa, despite the circumstances. He had grown quiet with age. He still laughed and tried to tickle my toes though. He even still danced on his frail legs in his clunky no slip sneakers from Wal-Mart. I knew the photos of him and I dancing around the table were real moments from his ever-present silly persona, even though in recent years, he lacked the same vibrancy for life. Even now as we buckled our seatbelts, he was lifeless and oblivious to our trip back to my hometown. I hoped he would perk up to tell me stories of the place he grew as we crossed the trail, but I relied on my aunt to tell the stories this time as my Uncle Bob comforted his father.
We started on Route 2, also known as the Mohawk Trail. It use to be a bubbling tourist attraction. Tourists would stop at a number of Native American stores along the way. When I was young, one of the stores use to have a petting zoo. Now the trail is dead. None of the Native American stores are open. People pull off to look at the large stereotype Native American statue or teepees-stereotypes that were not even practiced by the Mohawks. Other than these fading locales, a few small towns dabble along the Deerfield River along with recreational companies that offer kayaks or canoes for rent. It’s quiet and I recognize the way the roads turn from the many trips we took when my brother and I were kids to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Greenfield. We use to be a family then. I follow the river weaving next to and under the road, dodging between the right side and left side. I hardly notice the bridges now.
Soon we are in the thick of the woods, surrounded by the mountains. It doesn’t look the same as it did when I was a kid. The small pull off park that had a man made lake was full of sand now. The river doesn’t run as rapid, the erosion from bad flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 made the river look puny. The trees are full and green though, unlike they were two weeks previous when my mom, brother, and I took a quick trip home to get stuff from our own eroding home.
We had one more town to pass through before we reach North Adams, the town where I was born and raised. After winding through the mountains and driving around the notorious Dead Man’s Turn, I see the small white sign. Welcome to Florida. I try to imagine my grandpa growing up in this town. Walking to school. Living in his small house with his brothers and sisters. The small general store that my family use to own. The jokes they use to make about how it was snowing in Florida. Some Northerner must of thought it was a pretty funny joke to name a small mountain town in Massachusetts, Florida. A large sign with a snowman use to welcome travellers to the town, but in the last year it’s disappeared. My Uncle Bob points out where my grandfather’s parents are buried to him. My grandpa is still silent. I reach out to touch his hand, but retract.
I take a deep breath as we leave Florida. We were heading to my least favorite part of the ride. The Hair Pin Turn. Anxiety built up in my stomach as we slowly veered around the sharp turn. I sigh in relief as we head down the mountain and into the valley where North Adams lie. I was home again. We pass the Cumberland Farms. We pass Beaver Street, the street I grew up on. We pass the old mushroom factory. We pass the library. We pass MCLA, the local liberal arts college. We turn right. We park by the lake.
There is a green tarp out already. It’s noticeably fake against the real grass. I don’t say anything as my Uncle Bob walks my grandpa over to it. My grandma paces near my mom’s car with a cigarette her mouth. She put me in charge of greeting everybody and getting signatures for the book. I’m glad. It keeps my thoughts quiet. People start arriving and I do my job. Introducing myself. Showing them the book. It has some nice quotes. It lists all the family members. My dad shows up and I manage to say an awkward hi to him. I shake my mom’s ex tiny hand as he makes a remark about how I am just like my mother. I gag on the inside. I find my cousin and we talk about her recent college romance. We all make small talk.
Once everyone is there, I look at the white marble urn. A picture of my grandpa when he started at General Electric lies on the ground. He is smiling answering the phone. It looks like an old National Geographic ad for telephones. Next to it is his favorite Red Sox Christmas hat. He wore it all the time when he was in the nursing home when his head would get cold. His love for the Red Sox was certainly transferred to me. The priest came and we all pretended to be Catholic for the thirty-minute ceremony. I struggle with my “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” hand motion in the back of the crowd. I say goodbye to grandpa with some humor and let him know I was glad that I got at least one more trip with him, even if it was only in spirit.