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Over the River

Written on:August 11, 2018
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In loving memory of Anne Bigelow Wise, my grandmother.

My childhood family road trips to Conroe were almost literally the song
Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go
La la la la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la
The melody danced around in my head like a pinball – protected from its drain by expertly guided flippers
And fueled by the restless energy that’s to be expected of a precocious boy on a four-hour car ride
With my mind occupied in song, my eyes found their own means for passing the time on the road
Peering through the backseat window of the family station wagon, or later minivan
They searched desperately for the luscious green trees of the East Texas Piney Woods
Because seeing those trees let me know that we’d soon be completing our trek from Georgetown
And, more importantly, that the game I’d spent the entire four hours anticipating was about to begin
You see, arriving at our destination was accompanied by a contest between my brother, sister, and me
Year after year, trip after trip, we competed to see who would be the first to spot the Red Bridge –
The entrance way to River Plantation which stands majestically over Stewart Creek, a San Jacinto artery
As one might imagine, spotting it first bestowed invaluable bragging rights for quelling my sibling rivalries
But our arrival marker wasn’t just exigent for me to win the game, it was also symbolic of a deeper joy
Spotting the Red Bridge meant that Mimi’s warm embrace was right around the corner

There was always something magical about staying at Mimi and Duke’s house
Part of the enchantment was the over-the-garage guest quarters they’d cleverly named the Owl’s Nest –
My grandparents drew perfectly endearing inspiration from their last name: Wise
Owl clocks, owl paintings, owl coffee mugs, owl coasters – owl the decor you could ever want
And the crown jewel, of course, was the Owl’s Nest, their worldly-wise apartment on the perch in the sky
A wooden staircase behind the garage led up to a beautifully-crafted Owl’s Nest ensign and the entrance
For a veritably imaginative kid, climbing those stairs was like climbing a treehouse ladder to paradise
After all, inside was the best-haunt-for-playing-Fort-with-my-rag-tag-gang-of-siblings-and-cousins-ever
Upon arrival in Conroe, securing permission to go up in the Owl’s Nest unsupervised was the objective
Sensing our anticipation, Mimi would acquiesce after getting her fill of grandmotherly hugs and kisses
She’d say yes with a nod and a wink, her way of signaling that she was a co-conspirator in our adventure
Once dismissed, we darted outside and were swiftly met by the familiar, comforting aroma of pinecones
Up the stairs and into the clouds we went, into our grandmother’s perfectly executed vision for our fun
As the oldest of us cousins started seeking independence, we grew Wise to the art of lobbying parents
We politicked to have all of the cousins stay in the Owl’s Nest while all of the parents stayed in the house
It should come as no surprise that Mimi, always our champion, was the closer in getting parents to agree

River Plantation, a sprawling golf community, also had much to offer kids as an untold green playground
And, as such, riding with Mimi in the golf cart in search of emprise was a highlight of every trip to Conroe
We’d climb in with her around sunset, she’d turn the key and off we’d go twisting down the cart path
The wind zipped our faces as we inhaled heaping helpings of freshly-cut grass in all its redolent newness
Mimi’d stop periodically to plop one of us on her lap for a chance to steer – timing each turn just right
So as to ensure we’d save the last of our light to feed the ducks, a bag of near-stale bread always in tow
After nightfall, we’d return, hop out of the golf cart famished, and dart into the kitchen already knowing
Massive precut platters of peanut-butter-and-jelly and tuna-fish sandwiches awaited us in the refrigerator
The same platters were patiently waiting to please the first time I took my bride to visit Mimi in Conroe
Portending her warmth to Jenn, Mimi called ahead during our drive to ask if we’d be hungry upon arrival
It was just the two of us visiting but, in her excitement, she’d made enough sandwiches to feed an army
That was Mimi – flanking the target of her affection with hospitality, storming presentiment with kindness
In fact, Mimi’s conviviality charmed her granddaughter-to-be upon first meeting my-love in Georgetown
Bonding through the banality of washing dishes together, Mimi instantly accepted Jenn into the family
This a shared experience, I imagine, for all her grandkid’s partners – each also fully her grandkid forthwith
Coming full circle ’round the Red Bridge, Mimi took us on a golf cart ride during Jenn’s first Conroe visit

Even though Mimi was the only grandparent that I knew into adulthood, I was never left wanting
To be clear, I certainly pined for my other grandparents: Grandpa, Grandma, Duke – all dear to my heart
But while they were each profoundly missed, in some strange, miraculous way – nothing was missing
And that, of course, was due to Mimi’s larger-than-life presence – she was grandparents all by herself
Sewing her affection over the void with the same care she gave to embroidering her cross-stitched owls
Mimi’s love for her grandchildren was woven like a silk tapestry – such gentle touch and devotion to craft
She worked with every fabric and knew the perfect pattern for every occasion – her yarn abundant
And her reverence kept us covered and warm like the blankets she’d made each one of us for Christmas
Inevitably, the over the river and through the wood trips to Conroe came to an end
Mimi moved to Georgetown and joined an outstanding retirement community – The Wesleyan at Estrella
Indeed, the-Wise-ole-owl-found-a-new-nest and ultimately, ample felicity in a newly-bestowed title
From her new perch, Mimi lived happily enjoying her new sovereign duty: great-grandmotherhood
As she now joins my River Plantation memories in the past, I offer this time-capsuled-melody in tribute
La la la la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la
My grandmother’s embracement of a life abounding in adventure, laughter, and kindness was contagious
The art-of-unconditional-grandmotherly-love-perfected, Mimi always made us smile

Written August 2018 in Denver, Colorado

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