Letter to Mom – Written Two Months After She Disappeared

Dear Mom,

I’m so sorry about all of this. If there was something wrong with you before you broke your hip and had surgery for it, why didn’t we figure that out? I’m not supposed to think like this – because you were old and old people die.

God Mom, I miss you so much. I want to talk to you. It’s just little things that I’d say. Today I’d tell you that I went for a swim in the rain. And that I’m scrapping off some old wooden chairs to repaint. You’d admire the chair job because it’s frugal – and will be bright and colourful. You lived a whole long life without learning how to swim so you might not think of it as enjoyable in rainy weather, but it was.

And I’d tell you about going to the farmer’s market at the near-by community hall. Remember, it’s not like the ones in the city. Out here at the cottage they really are farmers selling cucumbers (got some) and zucchini’s (got those too) and fresh potatoes and corn (our supper). Maybe I wouldn’t tell you I bought a beautiful little bird house made by a local artist. It’s exquisite but you’d wonder how many bird houses I could own?

Did I ever tell you that we got the birdhouse off your garage before your house sold? How many birdhouses do I have to own before I’m a bird house collector?

Those are some of the things I’d talk about with you if you were still here. But you’re not and so what I want to talk most about is Dad. God it’s so hard with him. When you first left us (where did you go Mom?) his dementia seemed suddenly less of a factor. Like he was shocked into being clearer. Mom, I know you were 89 and I guess in worse health than we thought, but we were shocked when you died. (You know Dad doesn’t like the term ‘passed away’ so I try not to use it.) When you were first brought to the hospital with that stupid broken hip you said, You didn’t want to do ‘that hip thing’. And I knew what you meant – how a broken hip and surgery can lead to a slow downward spiral. But it wasn’t a spiral at all. It was way faster than that. I’m angry with myself for not staying with you at the hospital 24/7 but I had no idea we were going to lose you. If I could go back in time – I’d go back to then, but I’m guilty of magical thinking believing that I could have changed anything by being there. Your lung collapsed Saturday night but no one knew that . I’m glad I had a sister with me at the hospital, holding your hand and wiping your brow, but she and I are also glad the others didn’t see you, so they can remember you differently than that.

So yeah it’s hard with Dad. Cause he’s not clear now like he was that first week. He’s so lost without you. But maybe I shouldn’t tell you that. Though is there some way that you know? People I’m close to are saying there is. I don’t know what I believe. Are you looking over my shoulder at my fingers moving quickly over my iphone keys right now? Or are you just gone? I thought that I would have somehow felt you by now. There was one morning when I saw you in a dream and it was comforting then, but it wasn’t enough. I’m waiting for something like that again.

Mom we’re doing our best with Dad. It’s so hard as he doesn’t always seem to know that. And they are wonderful with him where he lives. He’s getting out a lot – like really a lot. He asks us to take him places constantly and none of us can say no, even if we’d taken him on a long drive in the country the day before. But we’ll barely have him back and he’s asking when we can do it again.

You’d be proud of your grandkids – they’re visiting him too. Hey, we made the family jelly – your special rose petal (maybe I felt you watching me that night), and raspberry jelly, and the peachy pear. I think we did alright.

Oh – and in this high tech world I taught my granddaughters how to embroidery one evening at the lake. I knew that would make you happy. Oh mommy. I miss you so much. I thought this letter might help. Maybe the first try is the hardest.

I could just imagine your response. I know you’d give me advice about the jam (it all set, but I did have one runny batch). And you’d just love that your six and nine year-old great-grand daughters were embroidering. It was cool to see how much they liked it and went free hand with their names above their carefully stitched puppy and butterfly.

I think you’d tell us we were spoiling dad and we don’t have to take him out so much. I know behind the dementia is my ‘real’ dad, who would never be so demanding. But both that dad and this dad are so lonely for you. I’m sitting here on the end of the dock, feeling as lost as daddy. I’ll slip into the lake and swim, I guess. I don’t know how to sign off.

Love you forever Mom.

Ps. I haven’t done the best job with your bills. Some got paid late. I know you’d hate that. I’ll do better.

Pps. Did I ever tell you that Rose says if she ever had a baby girl she’d name it Vera – after you. I hope I did.

“The Earth is Like A Child That Knows Poems”

Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.” – Rainer Maria Rilke.

March. March, March. The word sounds like spring. Like hope. Like the smell of thawing earth. The smell of renewal and something you can taste coming to an end. That was the way I began one of my most ‘liked’ blog posts. I’ve puzzled over the popularity of that post that was a simple tribute to spring, but I must have done so wrapped in the warmth of summer, or delighting in the first blanket of snow changing a dull brown yard to a magical white one, because if I’d thought about it at this stubborn time of year I might have grasped why it garnered so much attention. Its easier to understand its popularity today, and yesterday… and all the frozen days before – in this winter that refuses to give up its grasp.cherub

As a collective my friends and family and even strangers around me are pleading that this March weather let go. The temperature rises from minus sixteen to minus eight and we want to cast off the heavy coats we are tired of, to turn our faces toward the afternoon sun ever so hopeful. There are still piles and piles of snow to melt before the hardiest crocus has a chance of pushing out of the earth. So maybe not this week or next but soon the words of this long ago well ‘liked’ post will come into play again:

easter 2012-ish-11Spring with a promise, just a promise blowing in the wind, of buds pushing out of the ground, of light cleansing rains washing away the sifting dirt of winter, of a neighbor reporting the sighting of a good luck robin, of a hard crust of snow melting in an afternoon, the winding hose left out during a late October blizzard appearing again. Birds sing in the morning and sound lighter, water drips off the roof and a cat meows in heat. I swear people too are more animated, slightly off balance with the extra light and sense of coming out of the dark, having made it through the long nights. March – skip past us, deliver us to the newness of another season.

How Winter Tiptoed Up and Slammed Me On the Head

Image I was a victim of seasonal denial. Sometime before Halloween I was saying – “Wow, this is amazing.  It is actually seven o’clock at night and it is still sorta kinda warm out.”  Not only that, I was marvelling at the display of radiant red and orange leaves glorifying the trees.  And being a really slow learner, I left the rake out in a pile of garden debris and wandered away from the task at hand mid-job to enjoy some frivolous distraction.  Then I decided to wait for another equally sunny day to finish the job, refusing to go do it the following chilly afternoon with a forecast of snow.  I believed autumn would go on and on and on. 

So it did snow – a gentle flurry of fluffy flakes, and I watched my neighbours’ set their yards and decks and lawn furniture in order through my livingroom window.  “Silly them, don’t they know there is always snow on the Eve of Halloween and this will pass, the sun will shine and melt all this fluff that they’re making a fuss about.” Image  

Wrong-o Daddy-o.  Yesterday I bought bananas and then realized I now had to venture home instead of making a scheduled stop unless I carried my bananas with me, because otherwise I’d be poking them onto a stick and eating them as a frozen treat as it was seventeen below – the temperature at which bananas and milk and other squishy and liquid materials freeze.  I pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and passed by a mound of snow three times the height of my vehicle, plowed into a mini-mountain that cars could park in a hap hazard fashion all around.  The lost yellow parking lines  would be covered with hard packed snow until spring.     Image   

 

Image  It was time for boots and gloves and travelling with survival gear in the car – a tin can and matches and a fat candle. Yes, winter had crept up on me and was clearly knocking me on the head – my rake would be leaning against the fence until the next calendar year and the hose, frozen standing up in the shape it was in when I twisted it from the tap, would stand that way until March. Yep, this is winter.  And we’re deep in it.

The Homecoming Dance For Spring

Who knows where you will discover the tid-bits of information that ease you through life from season to season?  Long ago, a neighbor – a guy who studies entomology (bugs) and engages in long treks in foreign places – told me he never pulls up all his spent plants in the fall, leaving instead a ‘winter garden‘.  So I pass by flower beds where the owners have meticulously cleaned up every last bit of perennial foliage, undertaking a clean sweep of orderly beds, so only stubble remains in the black earth, readying them for the coming seasons – and I’m so tempted to follow their methodical inclinations.

Somehow I resist, instead I carve out a place for small heaps of snow to pile around a stand of stiff delphinium stocks. I leave a nest of black eyed susans stems to sparkle with crystal hoarfrost .  In the back garden the morning sun reaches a small bed of gangly flocks and shines through the tired golden leafs.  This year I even left the most stately eight foot hollyhocks, rising out of a bed of  snow.Image

I’m grateful to my neighbor who led me to the winter garden inspiration, but now it is late February.  The snow is crusty and hard, the dry crisp leaves rattle in the breeze, clinging to the stems like winter clings to the landscape.  On the February long weekend we made the drive through the mountains to our cottage seven hours west.  Home in Calgary, Alberta is a gardening zone three. A hardiness zone  is a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone. [1]The cottage, in the interior of B.C., is in a place called the Shuswaps and is a more encouraging zone 6.

ImageDuring a short break from the wet weather we were having that weekend, the sun slanted through the slate blue clouds and searching hard, I found the smallest promises of spring’s revival. These weren’t tulips or even wee purple and yellow crocuses.  There wasn’t even a brave pale snowdrop blossom in sight.  But on the far side of the cottage, against the warmest wall I found teeny weeny hollyhock seedlings, dotting the damp earth.  I had shaken the small flat seeds from spent buds and stamped them into the ground on a fall day months previous, and now here were the beginnings of hollyhocks that would grow to reach the kitchen window high above them, and by August the long stems with a multitude of  ruffled pink and white blooms, encouraged by the sun and warm nights, will stretch even higher.  Image

In that zone six it is exhilarating to reap the abundant beauty of nature’s kindness, but my heart swells with admiration for the determined and faithful green thumbs working the soil in Calgary’s much cooler zone three designation.  Gardening in our foothill’s city is an exercise in patience, optimism and hope.  It might be long weeks before I find the hollyhock seedlings here where crusty snow is still the tired background for my now unappreciated winter garden. But alas, when I do see the itty bitty pale green seedlings peeping through the earth, displaying their own determination, they will beckon my faith in the homecoming of our sweet, though perhaps, too short, summer.Image


[1] wikipedia.org

Oh Baby – Let’s Swing

“How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down! ”

The Swing –   Robert Louis Stevenson

Up at our cottage there is a small clearing in the trees, with a view toward the lake.  It is a place some of us (probably the girls) always looked at as if it was where you would slip off to with a new boyfriend when it seemed you had been inundated with aunts and uncles, and cousins or other lakeside visitors –  to get away and whisper, or steal a kiss without being observed by dad.

It is a place to go when you are feeling like a moment, or being contemplative, or are in love, or out of love – a place away from the other places, a place to steal a kiss, or tell a secret. IMG_4581

 

 

 

And then our eldest had a baby who has a love of swinging, and we’d drive for twenty minutes to the park beside the local baseball diamond.  At last I knew what the spot in the trees needed – a swing – a swing for a toddler, but a swing for a long-legged kid or a grown up, too.

Lucky for all of us my son-in-law, the toddler’s daddy, is a recently graduated architect with a passion for building – no pre-packaged swing set kit for us.  On three of the hottest days of last summer he happily constructed the perfect, simple baby swing and a ‘big’ swing, and a place to climb and slide – with awe struck assistants from those of us eager for the finished product.

It was a hot summer with the lake temperature invitingly warm, so swimming and boating and floating we’re so much of what we did – not much swinging at all.IMG_4641

But it’s British Columbia, Canada and there are long crisp seasons where the lake is the backdrop for more quiet pursuits, times when there will be a fussy baby that needs to be soothed or too many folks will be crowded inside, and two others will have to slip out to that spot in the trees and take turns simply swinging.nest painting-2

It’s January now, the ground is icy white, the still air promises more snow and cold.  But hey, it’s time to dream of  spring and going “up into the air and down”….

Santa – please come take back ‘walking doll’

doll lights

When I was a little girl, four or five, I asked Santa for a ‘walking doll’. I don’t remember sitting on the old guy’s lap – maybe my mom had written a letter for me, but clearly a request had been made. I woke with a start on Christmas Eve, and thinking it was already morning, I ran down the hall in my pajamas, stopping short at the entrance to the living room and peeking around the corner. Nothing can erase that moment, even now all these years since, for what I saw was my dad arranging presents under the tree and there front and center – was the unwrapped wonderful ‘walking doll’. I slid back into bed unnoticed, but absolutely delighted – not at all traumatized that Santa had blown his cover. Surely it was the jolly old elf who left the doll for my parents to display, and now I would be able to play with her in the morning, and all the mornings after that.
My mom wanted us kids to use our imaginations so she didn’t want us to have any of those crazy high-tech battery operated toys. The beauty of the tall hard plastic ‘walking doll’ was that her arm bones were connected to her leg bones by some mysterious inner wires, and so when you lifted an arm and moved it, her lovely flat footed leg took a step – no batteries involved.
‘Walking doll’ hasn’t fared too well over the years – at the hands of my two brothers and umpteenth male cousins she’s somehow suffered damage my sisters and girl cousins wouldn’t have inflicted. A blinking eye has been pushed into its socket ,and some horrible boy shot her right foot with a BB gun (back in the day when boys shot BB guns).
Since my own kids left home I’ve kept a few cuddly baby dolls for visiting little ones to play with and even a soft plastic one that never loses its sweet soft- plastic smell. And of course, I’ve kept ‘walking doll’ on a shelf in the basement  – beside my own grown daughter’s fancy porcelain faced Anne of Green Gables doll.
Recently, seeking order before the house fills with family for Christmas, I did another  overhaul of great magnitude of the junk stored in the basement and vowed ‘walking doll’ needed to go. It was rule #1 in the decluttering handbook – if you are not going to use it or display it, let it go.  Those anti-clutter gurus dictate that I’m supposed to accept that even special gifts have played their role and to be content to hang onto the memories, but not the item taking up space and gathering dust.   So I was determined to give ‘walking doll’ up, to tuck her into a bag of used kid’s clothing and take it all to a local charity. (Now I don’t actually believe a charity will want to pass along low tech walking doll with her matted hair and busted eye and foot, but I could never pitch her into the garbage myself.) Somehow the bag of clothes went and walking doll is still here.

doll treeDusted off, with her hair fluffed up, she sits bleary- eyed on a bench in the front hall. I have a fuzzy plan to let her sit under the Christmas tree one more time amongst the glitter and lights.  It must be the magic of the holiday season, that makes me hope that maybe Santa will hop out of the chimney (if we had one), pop her into his sack and take her back to where they take the broken toys, and I won’t have to play a guilty hand in letting dear  ‘walking doll’ go.


															

Phone-less in San Francisco

In response to reading melancholy blogs from parents experiencing  withdrawal from kids gone away to college and university, I promised to re-post a couple of those learning curves of my own.   So here is PHONE-LESS IN SAN FRANCISCO

Seven P.M. on a Sunday night my twenty-year-old daughter calls,  obviously near tears.  “Someone stole my phone,” she cries.  “I feel so cut off without it.”

But she is on a phone, one the cell company she’s been dealing with, has given to her.  Born in 1959 myself, it takes me a minute to catch up.  It’s not the phone, it’s the information in the phone.  “I feel like I have to start over meeting people, making contacts.  I feel so alone again, Mom.”

“Honey, honey, I get that you’re upset.  But those people will call you.  You’ll get your numbers again.”

“Mom, it doesn’t work like that.  I’ve done this enough to know lots of those people were never going to call me.”  What she’s done enough, is move around, this daughter of mine.  This is the third time in her young life that she has by choice surrounded herself with absolute strangers – situations where she had to work to have even a single friend.  From our home in Calgary, at age sixteen, she bravely did a high school exchange in Rome, Italy – isolating herself further by having to learn Italian.  Her siblings went to school on the west coast, but she headed east to Concordia University in Montreal.  Now, trading another cold Canadian winter for a foggy one, she was taking part in Concordia’s school abroad program by doing a year at SFSU in San Francisco.  “People here have their own friends.  I’m the new one.  I have to call them,” she explained further.

I was alone in our renovated, too big house, when she’d called.  Her dad had taken two of our nephews to an early hockey game.  The weather outside was shifting, from a Indian summer to light flurries.  Earlier I’d been in the yard pulling down sweet pea vines and raking leaves, and wishing I was cooking a Sunday dinner like some of my friends would be, for kids who stayed in the city for jobs and school.

“What are you doing right now, Mom?” she asked quietly.

“Missing you guys.  Dad’s gone to a hockey game.  I was going to make toast but the breads gone moldy.

“Mine too,” she said.  “My bread’s gone bad, too.”

“I guess we need each other to finish a loaf of bread,” I said, from where I watched the sky turn dark outside the living room.

“Yeah, we do.  I miss you guys so much.”

“You’ll get your numbers back, Lily.  You’ll run into people.  And some friends will call.  It just seems bad now.  I’ll email you Zoe’s and Hudson’s and Cole’s and your cousin’s numbers.”

“Will you do it now?”

Of course, I told her, yes, I’d do it right away.  And I would add a note to her email, about how brave she was, and how I knew the next time we talked she would be okay again, having found her friends.