If I was waiting for a sign, this was it

The greens and blues making up the landscape took my breath, and I watched as the sky couldn’t decide if it wanted to rain or spread sunlight. I had pictured this day—May 1—countless times over the last few months. In my mind, I was heading north on the Appalachian Trail with a full backpack. Yet that day was happening, now, and I was standing on top of a mountain in North Carolina surrounded by headstones marking the final resting places of my ancestors. To my left was a pile of fresh earth; straight ahead was a coffin containing the body of my grandmother.

Funerals have a way of reminding me how important family really is. It’s a shame I can’t remember that all the time. And as I looked around at my mom, dad, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and their significant others, I began to feel guilty over my planned hike, and for taking my dad with me when maybe my mom needed him more.

And yet, I couldn’t help but think of what had happened the night before, as we were all gathered for my grandmother’s viewing.

As I sat and watched a slideshow of my grandmother’s life, I saw photo after photo flashing onto a screen that bled memories. Each one was a bandage for the grief over a life that was no more. I saw a new wife beside her husband; a young mother with her kids; and, more familiar to me, a proud grandmother holding her grandchildren. I watched in sadness and in awe until one image caused me to inhale sharply. It was of my grandmother standing near an approximate 2-by-6-inch rectangular white blaze. She was on the Appalachian Trail, staring into the camera with her arms folded over her blue dress. My family selected the picture out of hundreds, not realizing its significance when it was added to the photographic display. I was stunned. It was as if she was saying, “Go.”

So I am, and I have added one more thing to my pack: a hard copy of the aforementioned photograph. Written on the back in my grandmother’s neat cursive is, “Below Max Patch,” and I can picture in my mind exactly where she was standing: near where the Trail intersects Max Patch Road, S.R. 1182.

While I am starting my journey on the A.T. a few days later than originally planned, the timing is perfect. I am leaving with the knowledge that sometimes the best way we can honor our ancestors is by tackling our dreams, and I will take Mammaw’s spirit with me as I move forward.

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Comments 1

  • Jul Poe : Jun 8th

    Anne~ I read your sweet post about your grandma. There is a scripture verse that says “Lord teach us to number our days. If you can read GRANDMA GATEWOOD First woman to hike the AT. I loved it.


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