I strolled slowly across the grounds of Paris Landing State Park near my childhood home in Tennessee. The park was established after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dammed the Tennessee River in the mid 1940’s, created Kentucky Lake, and achieved rural electrification in the area. Emily and Alex Hancock were with me. They were the young children of my daughter’s new husband, John Hancock. “Oh, look”, I said. “Here’s some moss. Let’s touch it. Don’t you just love the way it feels!” Emily and Alex barely knew me, so they obediently reached down and touched the moss, but didn’t say anything.
We continued our walk. They knew their Dad and my daughter, Clea, were close by, inside the state park hotel. I was hoping to get the children to loosen up and be comfortable in my company. Emily and Alex were twelve and ten, and both had bronchitis. The year was 1996. Three years earlier Clea and John were married aboard a schooner while we cruised around Baltimore Harbor. The children and I meandered on along the slope between the hotel and the lake edge. “Look, here’s some more moss”, I exclaimed, reaching down to touch it. “Do you know the word, tactile?” I asked. “Moss is very tactile. It means nice to touch”. To please me, the children reached down and touched the moss.
Fast forward twenty years to 2016. At this point, Emily and Alex were both young adults struggling with their careers. We’d had many happy times together as a family. Emily had begun referring to me as a kindred spirit. We were all at Clea’s and John’s house in Maryland for a visit, when Clea said something about Paris Landing State Park. Emily said “Oh, I remember that place. That’s where Pattie made me touch all that moss!” I responded, “Emily, you make it sound like I was holding a gun to your head. I just wanted you to appreciate the simple things in life”
Emily lives in Maine now. She looks like her mother, pleasantly blond. She has a master’s degree in social work and is employed by Maine Medical Center where she works with teenagers and young adults experiencing major mental illness. Sometimes she moonlights in their Acute Psych Unit in the emergency department. A few years ago while working with Iraqi refugees, she would cry along with her clients over what the Iraq war has done to their country.
Emily likes to hike, sing, and swim. On weekends she hikes with her dog, Drake, and her camera. In late winter, she sends me pictures of moss emerging from the melting snow as the first green thing of the season. She remembers I once told her, “The world needs more moss petters”.
Emily sings a style of music called Sacred Harp singing, which reminds her of my childhood stories of “all day singings and dinners on the ground” in rural Tennessee. I was there when she graduated from Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA with a degree in music education, specializing in trumpet and church music.
Whales frequent Emily’s dreams. I know this because I have served as her dream interpreter for many years. She sports a humpback whale tattoo on her right forearm. She identifies with whales because they represent emotional depth, are family oriented, and like to swim and sing.
Emily has spent much of her life living as close to bodies of water as she can get, whether it be Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River or now, Casco Bay in Portland, Maine. She swims laps year round at the local YMCA and makes it a point to jump into the frigid waters off the coast of Maine at least once a month throughout the year. This is done naked in the winter due to increased risk of hypothermia when emerging from the water in wet clothing. In the summers, Emily dons a wetsuit for longer distance open water swims. A few years ago she completed a 2.4 mile open water race across Casco Bay from Peak’s Island back to Portland’s East End Beach.
Emily and I sometimes communicate by Haiku, and we tend to read the same books. Each day I email her, and other family members, to report on how my life is going. Emily says, “Pattie, I hope you don’t mind that I sometimes provide dramatic readings of your emails to my co-workers, and we all cry”. I say, “Emily, I believe you like to cry”.
Once Emily said to me, “Pattie, I am dying to ask your thoughts on dying”. I might write an essay on that someday, but to preview, I think less about dying and more about living and creating my own heaven right here on earth. I am counting on Hospice to make my death comfortable. My only fear is not having enough time to finish my writing projects. I don’t expect anything after death except possibly living on in someone’s memory.
I am grateful that my step-granddaughter, Emily Hancock, fills the role of big sister to my biological granddaughter, Anna Rose Hancock. They adore each other, and I know the value of that because I had three beloved older sisters who were important in my life. Emily and Anna recently videotaped themselves sitting in a cave in New Hampshire harmonizing the Sacred Harp favorite, Wayfaring Stranger. That is sisterhood at its best.
I am amused that Emily and I bonded over an ordinary thing like moss, which symbolizes our shared appreciation of nature’s small gifts. Through her photographs, I can still vicariously enjoy the great outdoors. Emily is a good photographer. She artistically captures black tree shadows on white snow, her dog, Drake, in the surf with his yellow tennis ball, or glistening dew drops on a green leaf.
I am proud to be Emily’s grandmother and do not regret “making her” reach down and feel the moss twenty-two years ago when she was twelve. I hope she will continue to share her photos of nature’s small treasures she notices on her outdoor weekend adventures.