Memories of my grandmother at Relay for Life
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:46PM
In the darkness, with people milling about, I sat on the Plainfield High School track, cross-legged, in front of my grandmother’s luminaria.
I found it after making almost an entire circuit around the track. I’d misread the alphabetical order the Relay for Life organizers had put the luminaria in. But it mattered little. I could add it to my lap total, I thought.
The rest of the evening, I forgot to count my laps. But I know for certain I made at least that one.
Others at the relay walked around, looking for their own luminaria. Some had flashlights to assist. Others made their way around, getting in close occasionally to make out the names in the dark, calling out to others when they found what they were looking for.
I sat alone, contemplative. The rest of my team was scattered at different points around the track, before their own white luminaria bags, the names of their loved ones written on them in different shades of magic marker.
I would like to say, at that moment, memories of my grandmother flooded my mind, or that I felt her presence sitting with me. But nothing so dramatic happened.
Instead, my mind wandered back to the same memories I had for the last few days leading up to the relay. They are a pair of flashes, like a movie reel. Whether these two moments happened exactly as I remember them does not matter. They’re my memories, shaped to how I’d like to remember them, perhaps, but dear to me.
They’re two of the earliest memories I have of my grandmother. In the first, she and I sat at the table in the basement kitchen of her former home in Arlington Heights. We each held cards, placing them on the table before us, a modified version of the card game War.
Neither of us, I suspect, really knew how to play. Whenever I pick up the game now, I have to be reminded of the rules. But we placed the cards down in a pile, cheered for one another, and then did it again.
The second moment still makes me emotional.
My grandparents owned a small summer house near Wonder Lake. We’d go out there from time to time, frequently when I was younger, less as the years got on. For a little kid, the trip out there seemed to take an eternity. Upon arrival one time, I remember getting out of the car and seeing my grandmother up the yard, near the house.
I ran up to her, exhilarated to see her. She came down the slope of the yard, arms out, and we hugged.
My mind played with both these memories as I sat, my eyes closed, on the Plainfield track, when I heard, “Chris?”
I recognized the voice of my friend, the captain of our relay team. She had lost a close friend to a rare bone cancer a few years back, and she’d founded the team. I’d joined because of my grandmother’s diagnosis.
The true sucker punch for my friend was that another one of her close friends later developed bone cancer, less aggressive than her other friend’s, but still dangerous. Fortunately, her second friend responded to treatment. She was there with us that night, walking the relay.
“Do you want to come over by us?” my team captain asked.
She had paired up with her friend, and they were stationed on the opposite side of the field.
Yes, I did. I was at the relay as much for her as I was for myself. She still struggled with the loss of her friend.
These two women are the reasons I do the relay every year. Yes, there’s raising money for cancer research, and the ultimate hope is that a cancer cure is found.
But there was my grandmother. There aren’t many occasions anymore where I find myself thinking about her, which is sad. But life goes on, and in its day-to-day trappings, those two memories I hold onto fade into the background.
Except at times like this.
And then there’s my friend, who still feels the freshness of her loss, even with the passage of time. We are connected by our loss, one more thread in the fabric of our friendship, a relationship that has memories that go back nearly as far as the pair I have of my grandmother.
If I can offer some support, even momentarily, just that one night, I owe her that much.
So I stood up, grabbed my grandmother’s luminaria, and followed her to the other side of the track. As we hustled over, silence fell around us, and the luminaria ceremony began.
Chris LaFortune is a managing editor at The Doings.