Dust on Turku
Grandfather rested on the top shelf of mother’s closet, gathering dust. Ashes to ashes. He’d died nearly destitute and barely in touch with anyone. After Grandmother passed young, he’d rolled away like a stone from his children.
His will contained little beyond the request to take him home. Father scoffed. Grandfather’d been born in the states, as had his parents before him. Best to take him north to Milwaukee, inter him there, Father railed.
Mother kept quiet, bringing the cheap urn to our house instead. And so Grandfather waited. Dust to dust.
I’d grown up curious about our heritage. So few children around me there in the South had heard of the place, let alone traced their blood back to it. I tried to teach myself the language using worn audio cassettes, bought second hand. I ended up speaking a garbled mess.
In college, I mostly moved passed it, losing myself in my degrees and my love affairs, in my mess of adolescent experience. And all along, Grandfather waited. From dust we come.
I came back to Father’s house after my husband left me. Bitter and broken, I worked and stored away money. I kept my head down and imagined what was wrong with me. And then one icy cold day, I found Grandfather.
I’d forgotten about him, a rare ghost of my childhood, only physically near me a handful of times. Instead, I hoped to find a more stylish hat to wear out to the bar than the ugly navy watch cap from the hall closet.
We ended up sitting on the floor, Grandfather and I. Not a word spoken, just my fingers tracing the urn and the absurd paper tag hanging on twine from the neck. A.H. 2006.
I booked the tickets that night. I emailed my resignation to my boss. I fought with Father. About the money, about my future. About honoring a man who’d abandoned us all. I didn’t need the money. I had the time.
Passing through security with an urn of cremains in the pre-dawn light proved much easier than anticipated. I carried the right paperwork-I’d proved nothing if not meticulous at such things.
The flight was long. My legs grew cramped in the middle center seat. Grandfather sat squished in to the overhead compartment.
Darkness met us when we arrived. In winter, it was dark nearly all day.
Discombobulated, strung out on caffeine and vodka, garbling the language, I caught a train from Helsinki to the coast.
I slept in a stiff bed at the hotel. Grandfather watched over me from the little pre-fab table. In the brief daylight, we went for a walk along the shore. Ice crystals and hard snow crunched under my boots.
Finding a spot, I pulled on the tag until it came free in a frayed snap of broken twine. I used a stick through the frost, digging a little hole. The tag tucked in neatly under the rock I covered it with.
Then I unscrewed the urn. “Welcome home, Grandfather.”
Upending it, I watched the winter wind whip the pieces of him up into a small cyclone and out onto the water.
I found the bar near the cathedral. I’d meant to pray, but church didn’t feel welcoming to me anymore.
“Why so sad, pretty girl?” The bartender, tall and broad, had cornflower blue eyes like Grandfather.
“I came to bring my Grandfather home.” My fingers twitched, imagining ash clinging to them. To dust we return.
“You are Finnish?” His smile widened.
I shrugged. “Some. Not all.”
He turned and pulled out a bottle, pouring the contents, the color of cider vinegar into a glass.
“Sima,” he said, placing it on the worn wood. “Mead. Is good.”
I took a cautious sip, the taste of honey and lemon fizzing on my tongue. It made me grin.
“Now, you are Finnish.” He winked and left me there, walking down to other end of the bar where two old men waited for him.
I cupped the glass in my hands, taking another sip. Outside in the dark, the snow swirled like ash in a whirlwind.