Tell Stories

Last night, I tried on my grandma’s old rabbit fur parka. It’s white and grey, with red lining and a dark trim around the hood. It’s the warmest thing I’ve ever worn. I put my hands in the pockets and pulled out a soft pack of Parliaments and a box of matches. My grandma didn’t smoke for 30 years before she died.

This morning, I tried on my grandpa’s old denim jacket. The collar and cuffs were coated with dirt and grease. I remember my grandpa wearing that jacket at their old home in Gunnison, Colorado, where he would fish in the stream out behind their house. The sleeves were too long for me, so I rolled them up. I put my hands in the pockets and pulled out a wooden pipe that was held together with a piece of scotch tape. My grandpa smoked everyday since he was 13 until his death at 90. He was a doctor.

And these jackets they left behind them, along with dozens of old Reader’s Digests, a stuffed bobcat, and more letter openers than anyone could reasonably use in a lifetime, amount to the legacy of Lit and Nelda Cobb. It has been a sobering experience, seeing how easily the acquisitions of two long lives can be thrown away, sold, and put into boxes that will likely never be looked at again. I filled countless garbage bags with calendars, address books, notes, and letters that my grandma wrote and received, that – I’m sure – contained more about her than I ever knew about her while she was alive. But there was no way I could sit down and parse it all to put together a picture of what her life was like. It was just too much.

I found one entry in an address book that could have been the start of a chase down an investigative rabbit hole: “Went to the funeral for Bob Wells today. Why did he shoot himself?” I don’t know who Bob Wells was, but after I read that little note I have been thinking about him nonstop. This man I never knew, who shot himself in ’84 for reasons I couldn’t begin to guess at. To me, that is the only legacy he left behind – a single line in an address book by a housewife from Lubbock. I don’t know what kind of jacket he wore or if he smoked, but I have a small scrap of the story that was his life.

And ultimately, that is the only kind of legacy any of us will have: Stories. All of the things we have and the people we love will decay and disappear, but the stories will continue as long as they are good enough to repeat. And my grandparents certainly had some good stories: How my grandfather was Buddy Holly’s family doctor. How my grandmother loved nothing more than to play cards with the boys late into the night. How furious my dad was when he found me and my grandpa smoking pipes together on the back porch. How my grandmother taught me to skip rocks in Colorado.

About my grandmother, who passed away early last week, I will mostly remember something that the pastor said at her funeral service. He said that the last contact she had with the church, after she was no longer able to attend service, was to call him to find the address of an ailing member of the congregation so that she could write him a comforting letter. She was hardly able to stand, and yet her thought was to comfort those around her. That is a story I am proud to tell about my grandmother.

Also that she had phenomenal taste in outerwear.


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