Seven years and eight months have passed since she last ventured to the haze-ridden Blue Ridge Mountains. With the seasonal change of bright coppers and ambers blanketing the treetops towering overhead, she’d arrive at a small campground outside of Ellijay, Georgia for an extended stay in a fifth-wheel camper hitched behind a white two-door GMC truck. Traveling daily through dormant communities and mingling with mountain folk, my grandmother’s admiration for north Georgia was unquestionable. Countywide fall festivals, antique thrift stores and the occasional Huddle House, she loved this place. And it wasn’t just her place, but theirs.
As we rode further from flatness through rolling foothills and well-nourished apple orchards, Nana’s speech intensified with the speedometer. Recounting bits of blurred nostalgia, she vocalized her memory like an auctioneer on a Saturday night, only speaking with more succinct sentences. Is the Pendergrass Flea Market ahead? We always liked to go there on Sundays before everyone got out of church. Robin, what was the name of that hamburger place we ate at that time in Dahlonega? That road up yonder to the left is the road we always took to Hiawassee and Canton. Most of these roads can take you anywhere you want to go, Danabug. That’s the Methodist church where Daryl and Faye attend church on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I’m glad they’re going again.
Several miles down the tattered, yet charming highway, my mother and sister continued to disregard Nana’s one-sided conversation. Between working with adults and preschoolers, they had mastered the art of tuning others out. I struggled to give Nana my undivided attention. I discovered tranquility on inaudible car rides, but a quiet drive down an unfamiliar road was nonexistent, especially with someone who understood their bearings. Hypnotized by the God’s panorama of fall outside the backseat window, I nodded occasionally and answered with an exaggerated “yes ma’am” once or twice. Her words functioned like that of a typist, diligently transcribing mere thoughts onto a piece of paper, but only stopping to transpose the lines. Nana recalled as much as her active seventy-eight year old memory would allow, frequently stumbling on her words. She was animated on the exterior, yet uneasy and disheartened beneath. Although her constant discourse deemed to be tiresome, I couldn’t help but empathize with her actions—he was a part of every memory she held.
Happily married for over fifty years, Nana and Granddaddy shared an unbreakable bond that survived the birth of two children and three grandchildren, road trips around the continental United States, and the hardships of managing a farm. Through sickness and health, she remained by his side until the incurable disease escorted him into the welcoming arms of Heaven. These scattered pieces of memory were all she had left. From clatter to stillness, the car ride’s atmosphere transitioned with the mention of Granddaddy’s name. Noticing the silence, I glanced left towards Nana, who was distracted by her own reflections. With one hand gently placed in her lap and the other by her side, she squinted into the sunlight illuminating the colorful north Georgia countryside. I studied her disposition, struggling to comprehend the way she felt. Although I had experienced love, I could never quite grasp the concept of losing a soul mate. Even after seven years, her broken heart remained. Though I didn’t pretend to play God as much as I wanted to in that moment of desolation, I leaned over and lightly placed my hand on top of hers. Turning with a slight surprise, she embraced my compassion with a smirk. I smiled back and asked to hear more.
Born and raised in rural southwest Georgia, Dana J. Hortman is a 26-year-old Southern belle living in the heart of Atlanta while pursuing an MFA degree in Writing. While she spends most of her time writing, drinking wine, and watching her favorite black and white movies, she’s a true Carrie Bradshaw at heart paired with a thick southern drawl and full strand of pearls. She constantly abides by a quote her favorite author Candace Bushnell once said: “A writer must be fearless. A writer has to be like a clawed animal.”