Disclaimer: This post will be more personal than most. Bear with my sentimentality 🙂
About 95 miles south of Little Rock lies Monticello, Arkansas a town of about 10,000 people and home to the University of Arkansas at Monticello. If you haven’t heard of it don’t worry one bit.
My family has long had ties to Monticello. My father lived there for a time when he was younger, my great-aunt lived there until recently, and for many many years my paternal grandmother, Kittye Mae lived there. When Kittye Mae left Monticello she lived mostly with us in California and spent time with our family in Houston, Texas as well.
Kittye Mae was a wonderful person. She was patient, caring, and above all a people person. My father always says that not everyone gets to experience the unconditional love that Kittye Mae gave to those in her live. I was fortunate enough to be one recipient.
In the summer of 2008, after more than ninety years of a well-lived life Kittye Mae left us. I believe that she chose her timing very deliberately. I was scheduled to leave for a study abroad program in Mexico for six weeks just a week after her passing. To this day I am so grateful I got to be there with my family.
One of the most memorable trips of my life was the weekend I took off from my program and traveled from Queretaro, Mexico to Monticello, Arkansas. I traveled by bus to Mexico City, caught a flight to Little Rock through Dallas and arrived not long after my family from California.
My mother, father, and brother met me at the airport, they had Kittye Mae too of course (she had to be checked). Together we made the two hour drive to Monticello in the sticky August heat. The trip went well. We remembered Kittye Mae with a service at her church and several gatherings. Flowers were abound because, as fleeting as they are, Kittye Mae loved fresh flowers the most. We also made many memories on that trip; Chris running into a display case at Walgreens with the motorized scooter, my struggle to resist fried chicken despite being a vegetarian for months, and importing wine for the wake in the first “dry county” I’d ever been too.
Over three years later Rachel and I drove into Monticello in the dark of Thursday evening. Our first stop was for food, a burger joint, and then to find my grandmother’s old residence. Kittye Mae’s landlord, Gloria was extremely generous and put Rachel and I up for a night in an unoccupied apartment.
We moved our things in and were happy to find a HUGE king size bed waiting for us. The room we stayed in was General Robert E. Lee themed. That included a few confederate flags, some epic paintings of military men, Scottish tartan, and other Scottish references. The best touch? A bathtub, old school, with clawed feet.
Friday morning we woke up, Rachel headed out for a run and I set out a little bit after her. While I made my way to the Piggly Wiggly for some flowers I though of something else I should bring. I checked out with two single roses and a Diet Coke, cash back? No, I’m good thanks.
Ironically the main cemetery in Monticello is called the Oakland Cemetery–I can remember that! It was only a short walk from the house, the Pink House as it is known. I took my time, Monticello really is beautiful and peaceful.
I was worried I might not be able to find Kittye Mae’s marker, last time I was there it was the center of attention, but I remembered the family had planted a bush next to my great-grandmother. There! I saw it from far away, a tree that wasn’t quite a tree and more a well-pruned bush, deliberately placed just a bit away from the road.
At around ten o’clock in the morning I sat down in the Oakland Cemetery, Monticello, Arkansas, USA, Planet Earth and had a Diet Coke with my grandma. I left a perfect pink rose with her and a lovely red rose with my great-grandmother Stella Baker. I also spent a moment at my Uncle Phil’s grave marker, I was very glad to see he was there too. I love the thought that no matter how many different ways we may go in life, we can always come back home.
After my visit I walked back to the Pink House and swung on the porch swing, just like I had so long ago when I visited Kittye Mae, just like so many other people who visited her and received her unconditional love had.
It may bring tears to your eyes, it may be painful, but I do believe that the best way to honor someone it to remember them, to speak of them, and to share what you learned from them. I will do my best to share all that Kittye Mae taught me, kind acts too numerous to mention.
I have many more stories to share, travels to write about, but for now I will stop and enjoy the moment as I know she would 🙂
With love from the road,