Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Can Be Built

Wayne Allen Leavitt
November 18, 1949 - January 28, 2011

They say you stood in a hole deep enough to cover your head, frozen in the northernness of New York’s early winter. They say you worked nearly as hard as my Mother all that day laboring the labor that builds a habitat for humanity. A house; cement and wood, and walls to keep the snow out and the babies in their beds.

They say your bones hurt at the end. You returned wanting warmth and the “sussies” that keep you going. Your last pleasure. When the camera caught you your mouth was almost smiling, your right arm pulling Nita in close - her littleness fitting snugly beneath you. You were both clad for keeping cold out. White long johns and wool socks. You were standing in my sister’s house, your oldest daughter. New York was the wake of the first time your heart stopped.

Lonely is the wake of the second time your heart stopped.

My body is lying in your bed, trying to sleep through the wrongness of being here. My husband is asleep beside me, my baby in a cot at my feet. Three of my children, the three that know your name, that have squealed in delight at the mercy of Tickle Grandpa’s tickles are in beds two thousand miles away.

It is morning. February sun glistens in February snow filling your room with winter white and the blue that could be summer if it held the sun higher in the sky. Ewan is smiling while I lay him on your bed to change his diaper. He is smiling and I am thinking how pissed off you must be that here he is - the only grandchild you have not met. You were getting antsy. You were content with New York, but for your little ones in the west getting less little every day. And this littlest one was calling to you. It is the babies that have always fit perfectly up against your chest. I can’t help feeling like our being here is mocking your yearning. I wish we were here eight days ago. I wish you could pull him up to smell the babyness of him, and see the blueness of your eyes in his.

Introductions and reunions for another time.

You didn’t stay long enough to see the house built up around the foundation you laid that day in Rochester’s cold dirt. You would have carried a pencil tucked in your ear, making graphite marks on 2 x 4’s that you would cut as you have ten thousand times before. You would have dazzled them with your know-how, making them think what good fortune was theirs to have this seasoned wielder of hammers and drills and saws building a house for them. As it is, someone else will build the walls that keep those babies in their beds.

Lucky then, isn’t it, that you have already hammered enough nails and to spare to keep your legacy standing for a long time. The legacy you built keeps out rain, and wind, and snow, robbers, thieves and liars. The legacy you built keeps out Satan. It keeps me warm and right. You set the nails carefully and struck countless blows that taught me to know God and know myself.

Here is this nail - upon which the blow will resonate with curiosity, this one faith, this one ears for music, this one voracious reading, this one a fierce love of spouse, children, cousin, sister, brother, grandchild, parent. I am steady and strong, built by your tender intensity. In me you have built a habitat for humanity. My mother, my father, with their heart of gold, have gifted me their humanity.