I looked out into the morning, the snow misting across the horizon, blowing up in lines across the sky, whirling like the skirts of my mother and my grandmother at my wedding. They danced to every song, fell over each other or their dance partners at the end. But they never wavered.
Each gravestone stood, monumental in the grass. They were never buried. They both gave their wishes with whispers, handed them off to us like crumbling notes, as they lay looking death in the face. Let me fly into the wind, they both said. One after another they died, trapped in the hands of cancer like some nightmare but they just smiled and walked through those veils.
We brought them up to the top of Spruce mountain, where that old fire tower swung in the gusts that ripped across the bare mountain face. We climbed the steps, creaking beneath our weight; even my grandfather, who outlived both my grandmother and my mother. He climbed the mountain with his patient, slow gate which we all followed.
None of us said a word, either time. Grief ripped our tongues from our throats, choked us into silence; grief is devious that way. We stood facing west, where the sun set; we all knew that to let them fly where the sun set would mean they could cross into twilight, when the veil was thinnest.
Each time, we stood gripping the edge of the fire tower, looking out over the valleys, as the sun set. The only one who could let the ashes go was grandpa, who had steady hands in the face of grief and death. He was prepared, ready to go. He said so to us, once, My wife and my daughter taken before me. I think it’s about time I caught the last train home.
Each time he would wait for the wind to pick up, a steady gust that could carry them west. He would pose at the edge of the tower, eyes closed, hands steady, holding their open urns. He would feel the wind coming, breath it in a moment to taste it, assure us of its steadfast grace. The hands of God, he said. I’ve got to make sure God’s hands are there to carry them, else they won’t make it.
The morning here and now rushes back, a cool breeze headed west. I can hear laughter caught up in the swirls of snow. They both died in the summer, but they both loved the winter. I was born in the winter; my mom called me her snow baby, the only one who enjoyed the cold as much as she did. On the first snow my grandmother would drive out to our house. She’d knock loudly, and when my mother answered, she’d holler for me and we’d run outside and whirl around it. It was a tradition.
I can feel the hands of God carrying their voices down out of the snow, and I realize what grandpa felt each time he released them. There is this taste of grace in the air, a mixture of wood smoke and cinnamon, apples and lilacs, cigars and french pressed coffee. They all whirled up into a nostalgic reminder of what it meant to have them there, and I can hear them, singing, laughing.
They’re still dancing, whirling around. Their spirits tear up the snow, little eddies pulling up from underneath the trees. They’re still falling all over each other, laughing. As much as they try to pull me in to dance with them too, I can’t. They’re part of the air, the snow; they’re as much a part of God’s hands as the wind. I’m too solidly founded in the world to dance with them.
I run inside, leaving the front door wide open. My daughter sits at the table, crayons in hand and looks at me with wide eyes. What’s the matter mommy? She asks.
I think we should go dance in the snow, I say to her. And she smiles, this big smile in a tiny face.
I only waited for you to ask, mommy, she says to me, pulling her little red coat off the chair.
We twirl around in the falling snow, and the wind twirls around us, and they’re both there, the laughter rising in gusts around us. My daughter giggles.
Mommy, we should do this every year, she says.
I laugh. Yes, we should.