I often mention Mary Ann on this blog, and some of you probably wonder who the heck she is. So I’ll tell you. She’s my first cousin–we were raised together, literally in the same cradle or crib. (When we were two, we used to get into fist fights.) She also works for me as housekeeper/troubleshooter/right-hand woman, and her husband Larry is the guy I often refer to as the Canadian wrangler.
Anyhow, Mary Ann is six months younger than I am, so for half the year, she makes sure to rub that in. June to January, I’m officially a year older. January to June, on the other hand, we’re the same age, and I never let her forget it.
Today is her birthday, so she’s in for six months of guff from me.
It’s also my friend Vicki’s birthday, and she’ll be arriving this evening for a weekend visit, long overdue.
We plan to celebrate around here, but we’re also grieving, as the Wiley ranch house, the one where Gramma told me so many wonderful stories beside her old-fashioned wood-burning cook stove, burned night before last. Mary Ann and I both cried–that house was part of our shared history–but when the tears dried, we realized nothing could ever take the memories away. Springing out of bed on cold winter mornings, for instance, but ONLY when we heard the stove lids rattling downstairs. We’d run for the kitchen, over frosty-cold floors, and hop up and down while we waited for the fire to get going in the stove. That always made Gramma laugh. Grampa, preparing to head for the barn to feed and milk cows, etc., usually grinned and tossed off one of his famous limericks. He made them up constantly, funny little poems that included our name and some characteristic for which we were known.
There is much to be thankful for, even with the ranch house gone. My nephew Andy’s young family lived in that house, and everyone got out safely. Northport has rallied, in that way of small towns, to provide shelter, clothes, all the necessities. I have reason to know how good that feels, when a community works as an extended family–you see, our house burned down, nearly fifty years ago now, and we were met with the same open-hearted generosity. By nightfall the day after the fire, we had a house, clothes, pots, pans–even toys.
It’s bittersweet, to be sure. But if there’s one thing certain in life, it’s change.
So I will celebrate Mary Ann and Vicki’s birthdays today, and rejoice that the younger Wileys are all safe. That’s what really matters. And the ranch house will stand in my memory and my heart for as long as I live.
Good-bye, old house. Thanks for all the warmth on snowy nights, the laughter and the card games and the yarns Uncle Raymond told about Big Foot. Thanks for Gramma’s stories, and Grampa’s poems. Thanks for all the salads fresh from the garden, all the Christmas trees and Thanksgiving turkeys and birthday cakes. Thanks for your lights, shining a welcome in the country darkness. Thanks for your gate, swinging wide open on creaky hinges. (It was fun to ride that gate as it swung.) And most of all, thanks for always having room for one more person, small though you were. You were never painted, never fancy, but you were home.