Often in the evenings, when supper is in the oven and the kitchen is (relatively) clean, I take a glass of wine out onto the stoop with me and I stare out at my little corner of the world.
The gardens are alive with dragon flies and bumble bees, and always I see a lot of work I must do…deadheading, dividing, trimming, weeding…
Last night I sat outside and watched as petals from the crepe myrtles drifted lazily to the ground like snowflakes. What a pretty sight in July…they gathered on the path like clumps of fluffy snow. We planted those crepe myrtles eight or nine years ago when they were less than two feet tall. Now they are large and beautiful and provide us with glorious shade for our hot Virginia summers.
This morning I sit in quiet…nothing but that fridge again with it’s hum and the birds’ pretty songs to keep me company. I picked flowers from our garden the other day and they smile at me…coneflowers and yarrow, hyssop, catmint and even some oregano for fun. (If anyone needs fresh oregano, I have scads of the stuff.) On my list of things to do today:
- make peach cobbler
- work in the garden a bit
- make blueberry jam
- finish the laundry
Yesterday’s run has me feeling a bit sore. It was my longest run yet — 5 miles — and I am dealing with something like tendonitis in my right hip…I’m pretty certain I need better shoes. Anyway, when today’s work is done, we will spend the afternoon at the pool. Hot sun, soft pool towels in stripes and polka dots, cool water and the laughter of children. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? In reality, it may quite possibly be more like this: hot sun, pool towels, luke warm water and the four loudest children in the county. Well, such is my life, and I love it this way. When we get home, we will make Limonada do Coco to refresh us before the pizzas go in the oven.
Sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer day…
“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
I agree, Mr. James.
I have left my job.
I am sitting here in the quiet of this morning sipping a cup of coffee. The steam rises in swirls around the mug and the soft light of day is beginning to shine through the trees, dappled and twinkling as their leaves flutter in the breeze. The refrigerator hums. Just outside the window on our deck a brood of Carolina Wrens is nestled in the hydrangea bush. Four tiny beaks rest silently inside while the pair flies back and forth throughout the day. The male calls out, and his song fills my ears…it is much prettier than the refrigerator’s hum.
In my mind a list grows…things that must be done today…this week…this summer, and a sleepy little redhead just tip-toed down the stairs to tell me of her dreams, so I shall go now.
There is much peace in my heart today…
The other night I sat in our room upstairs folding laundry. Ella was in bed, tucked snugly under her fluffy white comforter and humming along to the sound of Henry’s recorder. He played all sorts of tunes, and she hummed along. They often sit together while he plays. He does quite a good job with that recorder, though he could not sing a tune on key if his life depended on it.
I could hear the water running downstairs — David was cleaning the dinner dishes, William was reading, and Kate was on the computer doing some type of homework. And I sat folding another load of laundry. I can remember back to when everything I folded had tiny little snaps and zippers and never folded up very well into a nice little rectangle the way I like. And now I fold compression shorts, and football pants and slippery basketball jerseys, cheer uniforms, plus a LOT of socks. None of those things fold very neatly either, actually. I fold and I sigh a little…time does go by.
There is a large picture window in our room which overlooks the front yard. We used to be able to look out the window and see clear down to the end of the street. Now, in just ten little years, the maple tree is so large I cannot see past it. It’s green leaves ruffled in the breeze that night, making the setting sun’s light flicker through the shutters. What I see the most when I look at that tree is it’s shade. I can remember sitting with Coco in the tiny patch of shade it provided ten years ago…we had to keep moving to stay in that shade patch because the tree was so small. That was back when he was sick, but before I knew he was sick. He would just sit there with me. I thought he had finally, at eight years old, mellowed out. It turns out that he was dying. It still to this day breaks my heart that I didn’t even know.
But life goes on…time marches on even when your world feels like it has been jarred mercilessly into stillness. You look around at all the people, and they don’t notice…they don’t realize that your world has stopped because their world has not…
The day after Coco died, we spent a few hours at the pool. I don’t think I moved from my chair much. His death exhausted me, it consumed me — the memory of it, the pain of it. But when we came home and walked through the door, I expected him to be there. I forgot. I forgot he was gone. Sorrow has a funny way of torturing a person like that for a long, long while, smothering them at first like a heavy, wet shroud, and then slowly unraveling until finally all you feel are the shreds of grief now and then.
It will be nine years without that big, old labrador next week. And now I sit here, with another dog — a beagle — on my lap. Poppy.
She is a good dog. She is seventeen pounds to his 75. She is a lot like him, to be honest. Having her doesn’t stop the missing him, though. I guess that’s the sorrow…still touching me even nine years later.
Miss you old buddy.
You will turn seven in just a couple of weeks. I have planned your party. Well, I have planned the major details…the date and the theme and all that. I have not bought the invitations, or made lists or really done anything else, sadly.
Your brothers will both be playing in tournaments that weekend. On your birthday, you will sit in a hot, smelly gymnasium, listening to the squeak of sneakers and the bounce of basketballs and you will ask me “when is it gonna be over, Mommy” one hundred kajillion times. And I will look into those big beautiful eyes and sigh, because I know it really stinks for you, and it kind of always has.
The other day I was driving home from somewhere and I passed my favorite place on this entire green earth, the garden center. Outside they have these picnic tables set up with red and yellow umbrellas so you can buy a chili dog and sit down and have lunch during your glorious visit to the garden center. We have never done this, though. We definitely need to do this. Anyway, under one of those umbrellas sat a little boy. I think he was about 3, although I was pretty much zipping by at 60 mph, so I could be way off, but whatever. I remembered how you and I would go to the garden center together after preschool, and I would buy way too many flowers and you would sweat and get a sunburn because you have red hair and fair skin and I forgot to bring a hat or whatever. And you would whine about being hot, and itchy, and I would promise you if you behaved we could look at the fish in the pond. And you would want to spend WAY too much time looking at those fish in the sweltering heat of the greenhouse and I would hurry you along after a couple minutes. And now I think how that must stunk for you, too.
Anyway, I looked at that tiny little boy sitting under that umbrella, and I thought of you. You were tiny, like him, and now you seem so big. And your teeth are falling out and new, gigantic teeth that are too big for your mouth are coming in. You have bangs and glasses and you’re at school for so long that I hardly even see you anymore. Time has a way of slipping by quite unnoticed, Ella.
You know what is ironic? Even for all those hot, itchy trips to the garden center where you did not have fun, you asked for flowers for your birthday. You want flowers to plant in our garden. Daddy and I thought about peonies for you — you are going to love them. And we will get you those gardening gloves you wanted, too. And maybe even a watering can. You also asked for books, a new basketball, and hello kitty. I think that is the most wonderful list of birthday wishes that I’ve ever read, baby girl.
Ella, don’t ever grow up…
It still surprises me when she comes down the stairs in the morning wearing her spectacles. I am not used to them. And even though she looks so ridiculously cute in them that I just want to squeeze her, I don’t want to be used to them. I want Ella back — the Ella without bangs and without glasses and without eye-patches.
Last night she was outside blowing bubbles. She had her eye patch on, and her glasses on, and I remembered back to a couple of years ago to when she was blowing bubbles. I had taken pictures of her. She had long strands of red hair that swept across her forehead and ended in ringlets around her shoulders. Her skin was fair and without freckles, and her eyes were pools of blue surrounded by long strawberry lashes. I sat there looking at her now, and remembering her then, and my heart ached a little. I couldn’t see her eyelashes – there was a glare. I couldn’t see her eyes. I missed the ivory-faced baby girl to whom everything was magical, and to whom life had not yet thrown a curveball.
Sometimes at night, when they are all asleep, I sit by their beds, and whisper things to them. These things I tell them would get lost in the chaos of our waking hours…when they are home from school and the homework needs to be done, and the sports are starting up, and supper needs to be cooked, these quiet words are lost. So at night, when nothing can interrupt me, and no one can roll their eyes at me, I tell them.
I tell William to work hard. I tell him that he is strong. And I tell him that I believe in him, and to never give up on his dreams. To Kate I whisper of her goodness, her innocence. I tell her that I love it when she plays her viola, that her music is beautiful. I whisper of horses and flowers and books…these things we both love. I tell Ella that I adore her, that she is my precious, sweet baby girl. I tell her that I love watching her play basketball, and that her reading is very good.
Sometimes I start to whisper in his ear. And then I remember that he can’t hear me. And that same, visceral ache to one of life’s curveballs arises in me. He won’t hear that he is awesome. He won’t hear how smart he is, or that he is a leader, or that he has a good heart. He won’t hear that he is going to do something big someday.
I tell him anyway.
I brush the hair from his forehead, run my finger down the length of his freckled, perfect nose, and I tell him.
All week I could smell it…that mildewy smell where you know something’s been sitting there, soaking wet, for too long and there will be mold and it will be a disaster and you better find it. Either that or it could be Henry’s old shoes. Either way, I could not find the stink.
So somehow I convinced myself that I was just smelling imaginary things. One morning Kate walked down the stairs, smiled and said “it smells so summery in here!” and even though in my head I was thinking “only if you’re talking about wet pool towels that have been sitting in a heap in a dark cave getting moldy for a week” I guess I wanted to believe her about the lovely summery smell.
And nobody else in the whole entire house could smell it. I don’t get it because I could smell it in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Which made me not sleep even more because hello, THERE IS MILDEW SOMEWHERE IN MY HOUSE. But nobody else could smell it.
Me: Do you smell that?
Them: Smell what?
Me: That smell.
Them: What smell?
Me: You don’t smell that?!
Them: Smell what?
So I let it go for a few more days. Until Friday night. I decided to go into the basement (where I never go) for some reason and that is when I entered the mildew pit. A ginormous section of the carpet was wet and the storage room was wet and there was water dripping all helter-skelter from the pipe. So I spent the next two hours sucking up water with the steam cleaner.
And that was how the weekend began.
Saturday morning I promised to take Kate shopping. So we went. We spent approximately 7 minutes walking around Old Navy, at which point we had this exchange:
Kate: Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.
Kate covers her mouth.
Me: Put the shirts down and get out of here.
I then walked as speedily as I could without looking like I was trying to shoplift, and directed Kate to the mulch outside where she let loose with the vomit. And that was a whole new fresh Hell for me to deal with.
When we got home, I hugged poor little Kate, and gave her some crushed ice and Coke and a soft blanket. David and the boys mulched all day while I thought about the vomit and what to do about the carpet. I stared at that carpet for a while. I did not come up with any bright ideas. So then I went to the pet store with Ella, where she really REALLY wanted to bring home a puppy. I told her she could either have a puppy, or a dad. I didn’t really say that, but I was thinking it, because if I brought home a puppy, I’m pretty sure the dad we have would leave.
When we got home, we patched Ella’s eye. I don’t think she appreciates the eye patches all that much if I’m being honest. Actually, if I’m being really honest, she is slightly tolerant of them at best.
Ella: Mom, how many more minutes do I have to wear this?
Ella: But how many minutes?
That’s four hours.
Ella: Mom, now how many more minutes?
Ella, look at the clock.
Ella: But can you just tell me how many more minutes?
3 hours and 45 minutes.
Ella: What time will it be then?
Time for you to get a watch.
Ella: Mom. Can you just tell me?
And this goes on forever and ever until at some point I say Ella Louise, don’t ask me again. You can take it off at 7:15. That’s it.
Sometimes I sit there and watch her while she reads with her little glasses on and her little eye patch and her little feet wiggling the way she does. And every now and then she’ll push up her glasses and I can barely stand it. I can barely stand how cute she looks.
Those moments are gifts.
Those moments make vomit and wet carpets tolerable.
I made Shepherd’s Pie last night. It was really good, but not as good as yours. I couldn’t get the mashed potato peaks to peak the way you used to no matter how fast I whipped them. Too much cream? Not enough? I don’t know. My Lemon Love Notes are never very good either – overdone bottom, underdone top. And the beef stew you used to make…mine is never good the way yours was. Actually, I think I only made it once because it just wasn’t very good. Nothing ever tastes as good as yours did, Mom.
The other day I sat in my car and watched you walk into the office. You stopped to pick something up – I’m not sure what it was – and I was frozen, watching you. The way the sun touched your hair, and your long skirt and your gait…the way your profile appeared as you looked with a furrowed brow at the paper you picked up. That ordinary moment, for whatever reason, stood out to me.
I wondered what people see when they see you. Do they see a mother of five? I wonder if they can see you are about to retire. I wonder if they know that you love antiques and flowers and fine wine. Do they know you collect sea glass? Do they know that you have held hands with the same man for 45 years and that when he’s frustrated with you he calls you Veronica in a deep sing-songish type of voice? I wonder if they know you can curse like a sailor…or how much you love dogs…or that your favorite color is pink. Do they know you like caramels? And beef jerky? Do they know you like to tailgate? Do they know how much you miss your mom? You remind me of her, Mom…your hands, your smile, your voice. I wonder if people know that you have 10 grandchildren. I wonder if anyone in this whole world knows how much your children love you…
…I love you so much my heart aches to think about it.
I don’t know what people see when they see you. They don’t know you the way I do. They don’t know how you used to dance around the kitchen. They don’t know what you look like when you walk around with Victoria under your arm the way you do. They don’t remember what it was like to sit at the kitchen table with you and watch you do crossword puzzles in your bathrobe with your mascara all smeary from the night before.
They don’t remember that awful meatloaf you made once (and only once) with the hard-boiled egg in the middle (I was terrified of that meatloaf for the entire day, Mom). I can still see the red and white checkered cookbook out on the table, opened up to what I was sure would be the death of me. I’m afraid that meal may have left deep wounds in my psyche.
They don’t remember the afro permanent you got some time around 1975 that scared the heck out of Brett. They don’t remember watching terrible movies on the Lifetime network with you, all of us girls draped across the bed the way we were. They don’t know what a hooker-poker is. They didn’t smoke cigars with you every other weekend in Blacksburg. They didn’t go shopping with you. They don’t remember the berries we ate at Clyde’s. They don’t know your laugh. They don’t have the stories I have. They don’t know like I do, deep in my heart, how very similar I am to you.
Whatever people do see when they look at you, it could never be as good as what I see.
I hope you have the best Mother’s Day ever, Mama. I love you…
P.S. I forgive you for the meatloaf.
I was standing in the kitchen a couple of months ago when Ella mentioned her blind eye. She said it like I knew. Like I knew that she was blind in one eye the way I know she has red hair and freckles. Your whaaaat? That was my response. And then I kind of let it go, because I thought maybe this was one of her dramatic moments. She has those. Dramatic moments.
And then she said it again several times over the next couple of weeks. And I wondered. I wondered if she was looking for attention…you know…like how she goes to the nurse every week because she is itchy or whatever. But there is that feeling you get…yes, that shadow feeling that you can’t get rid of.
Her eye appointment is next Wednesday.
But she doesn’t squint, I thought. She doesn’t squint, or tilt her head, or close one eye to see better. She never seems to have trouble seeing anything.
And then she said she could see two of me. Okay then. And then she asked me why everything was tilted. Boy she is really good at the drama. But those shadows began to get a lot darker and a lot bigger. Like when the sun begins to set, and the shadows elongate. And the shadows begin to cover the surface of everything until finally there is nothing left of the light patches. Only darkness and shadows.
Then one day I took pictures of her. For fun. For the first time in a long time, I felt like taking pictures. And then I edited them. And when I saw it, I stopped. I think the world flickered off for a moment. Like with electricity, those brief moments when the power goes out, but long enough for all of the clocks to blink…that’s what it felt like.
Something is off. Something is not right with her eyes. I sat there for 15 minutes looking at the picture. And then looking at pictures from last fall. Now. Then. What is different…
Maybe I’m crazy… Maybe I’m just looking for something that isn’t there. The shadows grew longer.
And then last night, she told me again that there were two of me. And I stood there at Will’s basketball practice looking straight into her eyes. In the middle of all those bouncing balls and boys’ sneakers squeaking and the gym spinning, I stood there with the power going out and the clocks blinking mercilessly. Because one of those beautiful blue-green eyes just began to float. It just floated up like a balloon…slowly…slowly… My heart fell one hundred floors.
And I told her to stop.
Don’t do that honey, that’s not good for your eyes, I said. She can’t help it. I know…but just try. I smiled at her and the floating stopped. She smiled back.
This morning I was afraid to look into her eyes.
I was afraid of what I would see.
It wasn’t there this morning.
A few weeks ago you played in a tournament. It was a short-lived experience, on a team that I knew would not last. But even so, I sent a note to the coach to let him know about you. About how you don’t hear all that well, and that a gym, especially, is a really crumby place to hear anything what with all the bouncing balls and pounding feet and yelling. There is nothing in there to absorb sound, so it must be wildly frustrating for you, Henry.
I told him what I tell all of your coaches…
…to look at you when they speak, and to speak up a bit.
And also that your dog chewed up one of your hearing aids so you only have one ear to work with…
…that you are smart and you will pick up on everything quickly.
And he responded politely. No questions. No concerns. Just a nice response that went something like “looking forward to meeting him.”
But something in me, just the slightest little bit, felt unsettled. That shadow of a feeling you get in your heart when there isn’t really any tangible reason for it to be there…it was there. Sometimes it feels like paranoia.
I watched during the final game. I watched him call to you out there.
You kept on running. All of you…you all kept on running.
And then he pulled you out and he did not put you back in.
Maybe I am wrong, or maybe just then I knew what that shadow of a feeling was for.
I wonder how many people in your life, rather than putting in an effort to talk to you, have just given up.
They are missing out on you, little buddy.