I met my husband’s Grandparents when I was 19. As we left their 100-year-old farm house, Grandpa John walked over to a drawer in their kitchen, dug around a bit and then took something out and put it in my hand.
He said, “travel safe.” He patted my hand and his blue eyes twinkled at me, bursting with the Irish charm that only a man who was born on St. Patrick’s day can have.
I looked down at the small nondescript rock that he had handed me and noticed the hole that went all the way through it. I nodded at him like I knew exactly what the rock meant, but at that time, I didn’t. Not really.
Sixteen years go by. Two nurses are helping me as I stand for the first time after giving birth to my daughter. I am as worn out and wobbly as a new colt. One nurse starts to clean up my sheets when something hard falls onto the floor and she bends over to pick it up.
“Is this yours?”
What she has picked up are four nondescript rocks with a ribbon strung right through their nondescript bellies. It looks worn and strange and maybe a little unhygienic.
I hold my hand out eagerly, “Yes!” I say, “That’s mine!”
She looks at it, and me, a bit curiously. I then think about how busy she probably is and decide that trying to explain what the rocks mean to me is a much longer conversation than she has time for. So I don’t say anything and I tuck the rocks away.
You see, on that day that Grandpa John gave me that one rock, my husband explained to me that the rocks represent an old Irish symbol to ensure safe travel. This was a symbol that his family believed in. I don’t think that I have traveled anywhere without one since. Therefore, I couldn’t imagine having my daughter go on the first great journey of her life without at least one magical rock.
So when my Father-in-law sent four of them to me before Nora was born, I brought them to the hospital and hung onto them the whole time. And I mean, the whole time; through the squeeze of the contractions and the sting of the needles and the pushing and the sweating and the crying and the expansion of pride at the amazing creature that was all of a sudden…there. Like magic.
My husband’s Grandparents recently passed away. Eight days apart. And the more amazing thing is that they were also born 8 days apart. They walked on the planet for the exact same number of days. For 73 years, they loved, raised and parented two boys. And lost one boy. They also became my Grandparents too.
During that week after Grandpa John passed away, Grandma Bernita began talking about the son that they had lost. She had never recovered after his death and she never said his name. Eventually, she slipped into the sometimes comforting world of dementia. I don’t blame her.
I can just imagine Grandma Bernita on that 8th day, intentional, purposeful after years in the fog of dementia, slipping a small nondescript rock into her pocket, laying down, and thinking about that last drop of magic slipping right through the center of the rock, ensuring that her very last journey would be safe.