Ever since I was a child (and perhaps a baby?), I would wake well before the rest of the household. I would search around for a silent activity that would keep me occupied while I waited for others to rouse from their slumber.
Take this morning, for example. I’m tiptoeing around my aunt’s somewhat familiar home, rummaging around the kitchen trying to find the necessary items for a bowl of cereal. I’ve been up for nearly an hour and a half while my aunt and uncle still dream soundly under their comforters.
I am visiting my Mom's hometown where she grew up before breaking free to the big city; leaving behind her siblings and parents. Fifty years later, a gaggle of relatives still reside here and even though I grew up bunking at Grandma's during my visits, staying at my aunt and uncle's house feels like coming home again.
As I shuffle over to what I'm guessing is the light switch, I give the lever a flick. The serenity of the morning calm is broken by the hungry blades of a garborator; its motor screaming loudly while its internal network waits in anticipation for a feeding.
With stress, I realize my mistake and quickly flick the switch back to its off position. Once again, the house returns to its original, undisturbed conditions. I decide to forgo the lights and brave my task in darkness.
As I pour myself a bowl of Raisin Bran (after scavenging for a bowl and spoon), I squint to decipher how many raisins have blessed my bowl this morning.
Once again, my morning-itis brings me to a dark kitchen -- the sound of crunching cereal between my molars the only noise to keep me company. The loneliness of the early morn wraps itself around me like a familiar, tattered blanket.
As a child visiting this small, prairie town, I remember awakening under dark skies in my grandparents' little yellow house that rested on the corner of 1st Street. After lying in bed for as long as I could stand, I would creep down the hall and into the living room, envisioning my grandmother’s French toast and hot chocolate that would be placed in front of me an hour or two from now.
To me, waking up to his company was as thrilling as Christmas morning for I was no longer alone in the dark, waiting for daylight. He too, was an early riser, and I was grateful to have found a kindred spirit.
On these mornings, I would sit beside him; our two recliners arranged in Archie Bunker fashion, and we would enjoy the sunrise as it displayed itself in the big picture window. He in his burgundy robe, me in my fuzzy pajamas.
I asked him why we were made the way we were, to greet the day before most people we knew. Did I inherit this trait from him? He answered that he was just programmed to rise early from all those years of working and that I, like him, must be a hard worker too.
We talked of many things; his uncanny memory for historical facts wrapping around his own life's stories. His words entertained me as the sun took its time reaching its place: stories of the depression, building the town's Church and arena, leaving home at the age of thirteen to find work, his love for pumpernickel bread. And how important family is and to never be afraid to tell a loved one that you're sorry.
I listened with an open heart as his words filled my young mind. As the tenth child of twelve grandchildren, I was blessed with this one-on-one time with him.
As we both grew older, I began to lose my morning mate; his body asking him to stay under those covers a few hours longer. I missed him in those moments and during my last visits to my grandparents' home, it was just me sitting in his chair watching the sun come up on my own. Alone, waiting for the day.
I've been quite resourceful over the years. I have turned the wee morning hours into my most productive time; often exercising along with the sunrise. Sometimes tackling chores. People who have lived with me just shake their heads when they enter the kitchen, turn on the light and find me in my jammies, scrubbing the outside windows before dawn.
Despite these activities, nothing would be more appreciative than someone's company during those dark hours. And just like those precious moments with my grandfather, I once in a while would come across temporary circumstances that would cure my morning loneliness.
The creation and birth of Saturday morning cartoons when I was eight years old bribed my brothers into companions for a little while. I was thrilled that, they too, were now early risers; keeping me company while we slurped our Corn Flakes in front of Woody Woodpecker and Friends. Until one fateful morning when I went to wake them to join me in front of the TV, they shooed me away. Their need for sleep winning over animated wonders from then on.
During the week, my Dad left very early for work – around 5:00am. I remember sitting on the bathroom counter, watching him shave before going to the office. I would pass him the toothpaste and hand him a towel when needed. Even if only for a short amount of time, these private little moments each workday became a cherished ritual for me.
On the mornings I would sleep passed 5:00am, I would wake to the sound of the front door closing, my Dad with briefcase in hand heading off to earn his living; our living.
I would scurry out of bed, fly through the door and tackle him with a hug before his responsibilities kept him out of my grasp until nightfall. He would drive away and I would return to a sleeping house where I remained, to my discontent, awake.
So, here I sit in my aunt's house with the necessary elements of a familiar morning. Dark Sky. Check. Empty kitchen. Check. Alone. Checkity-check.
Just as I'm about to spoon my last mouthful of cereal (or perhaps just milk, who can tell? It's still dark), the sun begins its ascent. I feel its warmth on my face as it paints the cloudless sky with purple and orange. I realize that I am only a block or two away from where a little girl sat with her grandfather; their eyes taking in a similar, spectacular glow while chatting about nothing. And everything.
photo by my cousin, Dana Emilson
As the sunrise nudges life on earth to begin for another day, I surmise the countless pockets of time these early hours have granted me over the years. How lucky I am to have my grandpa's words still resonating with me; influencing my life, long after his passing.
Without those early morning moments, I would have lost out on some very pivotal memories that have kept me company my whole life.
As I finish off my breakfast and shuffle over to the sink, I no longer feel alone in the dark, waiting for daylight. And I thank my body for knowing not to trade these hours in for sleep.
And for knowing all along that just because you're alone, doesn't mean that you are.
photo of hands by The Massie Boy on Flickr
photo of dark sunrise by Manitoba Slideshow Directory
photo of Woody Woodpecker by Ramesses Owes on Flickr
photo of raisin bran by lukeluca on flickr