REFLECTIONS/Jonathan Gramling

Jonathan Gramling

Homegoing Part 2

In my last column, I talked about my trip with my son Andrew to Jackson, Mississippi for the Celebration of Life for Andrew’s mom, Joy Ransom, who passed away in Late June last year. While she and her family lived in Davis, California, home was Jackson where her 101-year-old mother — whom everyone referred to as Mother — still lived along with aunts and uncles.

When we arrived in Jackson, we were picked up by Andrew’s step-father John. He proved to be a very amiable person who gave us a ride to the Enterprise car rental place. While we expected to be there for a relatively short while, we were there for over an hour as the staff dealt with a situation where there weren’t enough cars to go around due to people not returning their cars on time.

To pass the time, I ended up striking up conversations with the staff who while busy and trying to not let anyone see them sweat also had time on their hands. There is only so many times that you can check on the status of the same car that hasn’t driven into your lot. In spite of not getting any sleep on the long train ride, I was still pretty good natured. I enjoyed the conversation. It had been a long time since I was in a room of people who had beautiful Southern accents.

We finally embarked on trying to find the complex that Joan Bounds, Joy’s oldest sister lived and where the Celebration of Life would be held. I discovered that the biggest point of contention between Andrew and I would be the GPS map and guidance system that comes with the car. My old gray Honda has no electronics or computers to speak of while this car had every sort of gadget imaginable.

Andrew was used to these guidance systems and relied on them whenever he was driving out of town. Once you plugged in an address, the AI voice would give instructions, it seemed, after every block. “Turn right in 300 feet.” Turn right at the next turn.” And it had a map with an arrow that showed you the streets and which direction you were driving in. Like I said, Andrew was completely comfortable with this reliance on a machine.

But I am stuck in my ways and used to getting directions and mentally following them as I look for landmarks and keep track of the cars around me. Andrew insisted on using the GPS and so I felt like I was serving two masters, my old method and the GPS system. I ended up missing turns because I was trying to use both simultaneously. I am going to keep my old car until it falls apart around me.

When we arrived at Joan’s complex, I didn’t know what to expect.

I had always gotten along with Joan, in part, because I had made the commitment — and carried it out — to ensure that Jennifer and Andrew stayed bonded with Joy’s family in Jackson. We couldn’t afford to fly them down and so I would drive non-stop from Madison to Jackson to keep them connected.

While Mother was the definite head of the family, Joan was its scion who kept everyone together. She was very spiritual — and church attending — but didn’t wear it on her sleeve. Her beliefs would just naturally come up in conversation as a way of describing a situation or what happened. Her beliefs were how she made sense of the world.

Joan was a conversationalist and a beautiful soul. In the 27 years since I last saw her, Joan had aged gracefully and I had a hard time remembering how old she was until she said she was 76-years-old. She was still active setting up tables and placing the arrangements for Joy’s Celebration.

It only took a minute or two for Joan and I to start talking. The connection hadn’t ended and I was so relieved. We talked about everything under the sun. I think my faint Southern accent came back as we talked. And I referred to Joy as Brenda because that is how her Jackson family knew her. It felt so good.

Andrew stayed to help set up and get reacquainted while I went to the Jackson airport to pick up my sister Katy. When Katy learned about Joy’s Celebration, Katy said that she wanted to go. Andrew said it was okay. Andrew was in charge, in essence, and I was along for the ride. Katy got along with Joy the best of my siblings from what I remember although she got along with my father and brothers too. There was something about the woman to woman relationship — my mom included — that created a subtle, below-the-surface tension, a low-grade tension. But Katy would sit at the fireplace at Christmas and other occasions and she and Joy would talk. Katy is also a psychologist with a nice, bubbly personality. She could probably deal with any situation without breaking into a sweat. After all, he forte was counseling male prisoners in Minnesota prisons who had been convicted of sex offenses.

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Free of Andrew, I could fully ignore the GPS system and got to the Jackson airport on my own because I had been there before although I have to admit that I ended up taking the slow route to the airport.

Picking up Katy was no problem, but I confess I got “lost” on the way back. While I generally knew where Joan lived, we had used the GPS to get there the first time and swo I got lost without it. I swore Katy to secrecy before we finally arrived at Joan’s complex.

After about 30 seconds — if that — Joan and Katy acted like long-lost sisters and talked and talked. Katy had baked some chocolate-chip cookies and lemon cookies and they were so delicious, they could bring anyone together.

We probably talked more than we got work done. None of us was in a hurry to get anywhere. And at least I was so enjoying the moment. For 27 years, I pretended that this part of my life didn’t exist as I “stayed out of the way” so that Joy’s new family could bond with her Jackson family. And so I kept track of things as best as I could through Andrew.

The conversation with Joan was a healing moment as my past and present came back together.