A year ago today, I lost my Grandma Austin. I'm still healing, but writing this helps...
One night when I was home Thanksgiving week, my Dad busted out the “Austin history book” he had compiled. For years he has been collecting family photos and organizing books for my Grandma- so she would have something to look at and help her remember. Last thanksgiving when we went to see her, the last time before she passed, we sat and poured over the volumes from my grandparent’s early years. The history book, however, is filled with documents and letters and this kinds of things that don’t belong in a photo album.
We read through birth, marriage, and death certificates of three generations of ancestors. There were property titles and love letters, clippings from news articles and my Grandpa’s Michigan State master’s degree. There was a family tree tracing back to Augustus Austin who lived “somewhere in Connecticut” in the later 1700’s.
But the thing I loved most in that book: a paper my Grandma wrote when she was in high school. It was an autobiography of her life. She was fifteen when she wrote it, so it must have been before she met my Grandpa. I was struck by how grown up she sounded. I guess back then, 15 was a lot older than it is now. She talked about her younger years and the various pets she had. She talked about her Auntie who had helped raise her. But mostly she talked about travel.
My Great-Grandparents were fairly wealthy for their time, and they loved to travel. At age fifteen, my grandmother had been all over the country: Baltimore, Washington DC, Niagara Falls, the World’s Fair in New York, and twice to the fair in Chicago. She also wrote about the places she wanted to visit. When I saw what was on the of her list my heart stopped for a minute. The place she wanted to visit most in all the world? Egypt.
I don’t know if I’ve blogged about it here before, but I have a fascination with Egypt and it religious, cultural, and architectural history. It started when I was in 4th grade. I read an article in national geographic about King Tutankhamen and I. was. hooked. Right then I changed my mind and decided that instead of being a paleontologist who dug up dinosaurs… I wanted to be an Egyptologist and dig up mummies, climb pyramids, and decipher hieroglyphics.
Over the next few years, I became obsessed with all things Egypt. I wrote no less than 3 research papers on the pyramids of Giza, read books and encyclopedias, and even taught myself how to write English words in hieroglyph sounds. [I know- nerd alert] When I was applying for college, I desperately wanted to go to the University of Chicago. Dad wouldn’t spring for that kind of tuition, so I applied for the program at the University of Michigan instead. I justified it as “if I have to go to a school I hate, at least I can go for something I love”. Obviously that didn’t pan out and I ended up at Michigan State taking a different path in life. But to this day, my favorite book series of all time is about a fictional Egyptologist, her family, and their adventures in Egypt.
Seeing, in my Grandma’s own handwriting, that she wanted “to climb the pyramids and float down the Nile”, was like an eerie sense of déjà-vu. Don’t mistake me, I love that I’ve discovered yet another thing that my Grandmother and I had in common. But it’s a little freaky to see something on paper, written half a century ago, that could have come straight from your own mouth. The baking, I knew we both loved- she was the one who taught me how. It took me a while to make the connection about photography, but then again it took me a while to realize myself how much I love it. The fact that the place she most wanted to visit was Egypt? I feel like it gives us another great connection. It makes me sad that I never knew these things while she was alive, but finding them out is a way to carry her with me.
Someday, I will go to Egypt. I will sail down the Nile river, and climb that pyramid. And Grandma will be with me, in my heart.