Beside the River

I sat by a mountain stream and stared at the cliffs above. Shallow, cold water rolled past my bare feet and I let my head wander as my body sat still and bathed in the sunshine. I recalled countless times as a child that I had played next to a stream or on a lake shore. I remembered camping trips with grandparents and happy times strolling across Minnesota meadows. The code within my DNA is written for playing outside and I had a generation ahead of my parents to thank for that.


I sat there realizing that several states away the last of that generation is quietly slipping away. Her body rests, I hope her soul is walking some beautiful path towards her heaven. For a moment I imagined her walking the fork of the river towards me, pausing to admire the lone pink fireweed in bloom on the rocky flood plain, and sitting down on the log beside me to say it was time to pass the torch. I felt a pang of remorse for lost years and a failure to fully comprehend the tales this woman could have told me.

I sat with light dancing off wind tussled trees beside the stream and remembered moments where tension between my mother and this grandmother spilled over and made my relationship less than it should have been. There had been a struggle before my birth between these important women in my life, and while I could not comprehend it, I let it skew my sense of worth in my grandmother’s eyes. I should have known better. I should have known that the fact she sewed dresses for me, took me on camping adventures, and let me run wild at the farm were all indicative of the love she had and wisdom she wished to pass on to this grandchild. I should have focused more on the time we joyfully chased tumbleweeds together in the bed of the Rio Grande.

I sat wishing I had paid more attention to her stories of childhood. I craved knowing the details of her time as a young girl in Montana. I desired the inside scoop of how her family found their way to Southern Minnesota. I know the farmland and places where she met her husband and raised my father. I know the farms where I roamed for too many hours and was sent home with sunburns. I adore the memories of her gardens and every spring hope I am inching closer to living up to her standards. When a neighbor pulled over the other morning as I watered my attempts at a proper wildflower garden to tell me that my wispy blooms make her happy, it was my grandmother I wanted to tell. It was my grandmother’s praise I craved in that moment.

The river kept singing its song as it rolled over a rainbow of polished rocks and I sat longer. I recalled days when she struggled with anxiety. Those were times when I bore my own stress of thinking something was wrong with Grandma. She was my reality check that sometimes life can get overwhelming, and when I started having anxiety issues of my own, it was reassuring to know it could be managed. She had done it—so could I. Resilience was woven into our existence.

I left that spot by the river, walking in the brisk water and reflecting on the gratitude I possess for the four individuals that raised my parents. They also raised me and profoundly impact the path my life takes. I hope that as Grandma walks these last days beside her river of life, she knows I love her and strive each day to live up to the legacy she has given me. I’ll chase tumbleweeds and wildflowers for both of us.


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