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Sometimes the only way to find your way home is to leave.
Smoking weed while perched on top of her grandmother’s coffin in the middle of a downpour was not how Jillian had seen the trip from Oklahoma to Minnesota as happening. With flights canceled and the airline employees striking, she had no choice but to improvise and use her rock band’s hearse. And when Gran exits the hearse after the tires skid on a rain slick highway and the back door ...
Sometimes the only way to find your way home is to leave.
Smoking weed while perched on top of her grandmother’s coffin in the middle of a downpour was not how Jillian had seen the trip from Oklahoma to Minnesota as happening. With flights canceled and the airline employees striking, she had no choice but to improvise and use her rock band’s hearse. And when Gran exits the hearse after the tires skid on a rain slick highway and the back door flies open, Jillian decides to make the best of the moment.
Things only get worse when they arrive in Minnesota and her oldest sister, Shari, has a stroke at the memorial service. Toss in the fact that their grandmother had led two lives—there was a whole other family they’d known nothing about waiting for them in Minnesota—and life suddenly becomes more complicated.
"I know, Shari" Jilly whispered back with a sigh, sprawling on her stomach in front of me, crosswise on the bed in order for me to prop the book I had on her back. "But haven't you wondered why the two of them were never close?"
"Yeah. But Mom loved Gran, Jilly. You have to know that."
"Sure. I'm just curious to see what Gran wrote," Jilly continued. "I want to know why she's so attached to this part of the country. It's all kind of romantic to me."
I was shocked. "You think Gran had a boyfriend up here?"
"Why not? I know the idea has this The Bridges of Madison County ring to it, but it's a possibility, don't you think?"
Typical of Gran, the journal I began reading was filled with not only words but sketches-like Jilly, she loved to doodle and draw. Occasionally there were oddities like buttons or theater ticket stubs taped inside, making me wonder how she ever managed to write in the thing with so many bulges and uneven writing surfaces.
I knew I was reading my grandmother's journal, but the dates of entry were still a shock to my system.
"The first entry in mine is dated June 6, 1948!" I exclaimed. "When's yours?"
"July 9, 1950. I've already skimmed that one," Jilly said. "Thought maybe you'd like to start from the beginning. There are more back home, but these looked the most interesting and seemed to be consecutive-I checked but didn't see one in between these two."
I thumbed through Gran's diary before really reading anything, much as I would have if I'd held a novel, taking note of names I didn't know such as Dick Burton, with Gran's comment that she'd sure like to see him in person. Who was he?
Then there were references to songs Gran said she and B danced to like "I'm In the Mood For Love". A movie they went to, Gentleman's Agreement, with the movie stubs. I brought the book closer to my face.
"Here," I told Jilly. "Says she and someone she calls B went to see a movie, and she has the ticket stubs pasted on the opposite page. Who was B?
"Ssh-lower your voice or you'll wake up Mom. I have no idea, but it has to be a man. You'll see they went dancing, and Granddad's name was George, so he sure wasn't the guy she was with. Oh, and when you get about midway through the diary? Says she spent one weekend with him for some festival in the autumn."
"What?" I asked incredulously.
"Yup. Says Granddad went off on a hunting trip with 'the boys', so Gran took a train trip back to Minnesota and stayed with friends. Someone named Margret, without the 'A' in the middle. And says she spent most of the weekend with this B, as she calls him."
Suddenly I felt as though I was snooping, but Gran had given the journals to Jilly, so it had to be okay for us to be reading them. Still.
"Wonder why she didn't stay with him? I mean if she flew up there to be with him, why didn't she stay with him instead of Margret?" I asked.
Most of Gran's journal entries toward the beginning of the book talked about this "B" person and the things they did, places they went. They drove around in B's new Cadillac, went to movies, danced at the Masonic Lodge, and took a lot of walks along the banks of the river ... didn't say which one. And they went to several baseball and hockey games, which surprised me. Gran used to bitch that all Granddad wanted to do when they were first married was watch the Wednesday night fights on television, so I wouldn't have taken her for a sports fan.
But then I wouldn't have suspected she'd have had a tattoo of Paul Bunyan on her back either. None of us even knew about that until we took her clothes to the morgue and the mortician commented on it, so of course we all had to peer at it. But there it was, the bust of a lumberjack, dead center on her back, with a purple cow peeking over Paul's right shoulder and a blue ox peering over the left. Must've taken hours for the tattoo artist to draw it on her and fill it in. After we took Mom home, Jilly and I sneaked back to the morgue and had them let us take a couple of photos of the tattoo.
Mom thought all body art and piercing to be totally white trash, and if there'd been a cleanser strong enough to remove it, she'd have no doubt spent the night scrubbing the atrocity off Gran's back, even though nobody at the funeral the next day could possibly see it.
I'd hoped Gran would have mentioned the tattoo somewhere in the pages, but I guessed the tattoo came much later. Most of her topics centered around spending time with B. They discussed politics, which made Gran feel smart to have someone asking her opinion about the fighting between Israel and Palestine-boy, some things never changed.
But the most interesting thing about what I read was the tone Gran evoked in her writing, the joy she obviously got from her outings with B, and the adventurous spirit she had. I'd known when I vacationed with her that she loved going places, meeting people, and doing new things. But until I read her journal, I hadn't really absorbed how she must've felt while she was alive.
I could almost smell the crisp, clean air and feel the dewy grass beneath a patchwork quilt with denim backing as I read of one of the picnics she shared with B. Gran wrote that they listened to pop tunes from the Cadillac's radio, and that his arms were around her body as she leaned against him, cushioned as if by a pillow. I could taste the simple food she described ... fresh strawberries, peanut butter sandwiches, ice-cold bottles of Dr. Pepper pulled from an ice chest in the back seat of B's car.
Just holding hands was enough, she wrote. This is a relationship I'll never be able to explain to anyone. Who would understand? How can I capture in words the way just the touch of his hands upon mine, his breath against the back of my neck as we watch geese swimming in the lake make me burn with a longing so sharp it takes my breath away?
My fingertips traced the journal's binding lovingly as I felt her presence about me in the room. And I wondered why I'd never noticed how poetic she was, how fluid and graceful her writing. I'd never seen my grandmother read a newspaper, much less a romance, yet here I felt in her words such a passion for the things and people in her life, such an exuberance for living.
I am torn. I don't want to go home, to leave him. But I miss George. This is so crazy.
Then shock smacked me. I was reading about her affair with another man. My grandmother, an adulteress? The thought was mind-boggling.
Excerpted from Leaving Mama by Bobbie Cole Copyright © 2006 by Bobbie Cole. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 16, 2012
Good, clean romance story (no sex scenes at all). Story is about who you think you are, figuring out who you really are, and becoming who you want to be. Story is written from 3 different points of view (mom and two daughters).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.