I’d been sitting in the Walmart parking lot in Cortez, Colorado for nearly 24 hours, with only one break to make a run to the Cold Stone at the shopping center across the street. It’s walking distance, especially considering my ridiculous standard of “walking distance” but I drove. It’s dumping snow out there, wet snow, and I didn’t want to have to change clothes and switch out my moccasins for boots. I’ve been alternating between lying in my backseat and sitting up front. I pull up front when I want to turn the heat on and charge my iPad. I’m watching YouTube clips of climbers and comedians, a strange combination, and using the WiFi that spans across the entire parking lot. My windshield is covered in snow so I have a bit of privacy as shoppers get in and out of their cars on either side of me. But I’m exhausted and tired of this set-up.
I had intentions of continuing driving on to Lake City to climb a couple more 14ers but with the avalanche danger ridiculously high, I’m frightened of the idea of “just one more” getting me killed. I always try to quit while I’m ahead but I can’t help that urge to hit 20 14ers for this trip. I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for next week so I’m going home in a few days no matter what.
Late last night I got out of my car to run into Walmart to use their restroom. I’ve been carrying around a gift card with $27.70 on it for years and found it while cleaning out my wallet earlier today. So I decided to do some shopping. For what, I didn’t know. But I browsed the grocery aisles and clothes and eventually stumbled upon the card aisles.
And sadness and regret like I have never felt before hit me like a freaking bus.
As I looked at the 99 cents section, I remembered the budget cards my grandparents, my dad’s mom and dad, would get for me for my birthday. Even when I was older, their cards with cheesy puns and bubbly cartoons would come in the mail every year with some amount of money and a wonderful note slipped inside. They would call me on my birthday, singing over speaker-phone, nearly always leaving a message on the home phone. I’ve never been much a fan of my birthday celebrations besides the quaint gatherings of a few friends; having people sing to me as I stand there awkwardly is one of the most uncomfortable situations I could imagine. But what I didn’t think was how much that call probably meant to my grandparents. They had their calendars marked for the birthdays of their six grandkids and certainly those mornings revolved around making that phone call. And I would let it run to voicemail and wouldn’t make the effort to call them back.
My granddad told me a few years ago after my grandmother died that they tried to stay out of our lives. They didn’t want to be intrusive grandparents. They lived peacefully and unobtrusively out in Hanover County, many miles away, and I rarely made it out to visit and never called them. Even after I got my driver’s license I would practically only see them on holidays.
But when my granddad told me that, frankly I was pretty pissed. They’re family and despite having been busy, I miss not having opportunities to see them as I grew older. At this point I can’t imagine anything more important to me than time with friends and family, and I’ve realized I’ve lost precious time. Three of my grandparents are dead and my granddad has some serious vascular dementia that makes it impossible to reminisce with him.
But for all my frustration with them staying out of my life, I can’t help but realized I certainly didn’t give them any indication I wanted anything differently. I know I’m being harsh on myself, I was a different person when I was a teenager, and to hold that kid to adult standards is absurd. But I miss my grandparents and I want so badly the opportunity to tell them how much I love them and how much they meant to me.
Tearing up in the card aisle of Walmart I realized it was time to go home. My granddad now lives just a few blocks away from my childhood home at the Westminster Canterbury. He is on the dementia ward and they take great care of him, serving him, as he says, “the best meal I’ve ever had,” every single day. So I’m going to start heading home. The adventure isn’t over, just on pause for a while. I miss my family and friends, and I dread the thought of missing another minute with them to explore the timeless mountains that certainly aren’t going anywhere.