The world seems lighter today. Sometime early this morning, Hula's grandmother passed away in her daughter's arms. She was 96.
Her story was almost over when she came into my life. I don't imagine she much remembered me, as I only met her handful of times. And when we did meet, she was often reflective and once or twice, not completely with us at all.
Nevertheless, when we moved to Chicago, it became tradition for Hula and I to drive to Greencastle for Thanksgiving, and a few other times throughout the year. A sleepy college town some miles outside of Indianapolis, Greencastle is one of those places were time seemed to stop somewhere around 1956. If you've ever lived in New England or the deep south, you'll recognize a certain feeling associated with those regions. A sensation of being not easily defined by description. With seemingly tired and calloused fingers, Greencastle touches and encapsulates what is the Midwest and the people this dusty flat part of the country produces. It's all very John Cougar Melloncampy.
Frances grew up in a small house in Indianapolis where the only warmth in the winter was the woodstove her family gathered around, and to where a man in a horse and carriage delivered ice several times a week in the summer. An evening's entertainment might be her grandfather creating shadow animals on the walls. She described these long shadows as sometimes funny and sometimes scary, but the evenings as a whole as some of her happiest memories.
Frances lived much of her adult life in Greencastle, where she married her college professor. It was there she raised an incredible family; nurturing the artist, teacher, scientist and musician in each of her children. It is also where she endured the death of a child and a husband, lived through a fire that took the entire top floor of her home, suffered through the Great Depression, finished her own degrees, edited and illustrated the Zoology text books her husband wrote, later co-wrote these books and created the lab manuals herself. She spent time in the Galapagos and traveled to Surinam at 80 and to Africa as a missionary at 85.
While she only spilled into my life for a few short years and while I only really knew her from the hundreds of stories I've been told, each time I saw her, she never failed to clasp my hand in hers, kiss my cheek, look straight into me and make me feel part of something larger.
The sun came up over the world today and for the first time since 1904, Frances Hickman wasn't in it. None of the people who anticipated her arrival were there for her departure, but that can only be testimony to her longevity and to her legacy. This remarkable woman created an extraordinary family for which I am often amazed and always grateful to be a part of.
Frances Miller Hickman