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My coffee and I sit at our round table with our unconventional breakfast, looking through cookbooks to plan our week’s meals. My own handwritten notes are familiar even though they were written 20 years ago. Books being sacred objects, I was aghast the first time ex-Pat made notes in a cookbook. Over the years, he convinced me to do so, but only in pencil, and as minimally as possible, to convey the changes I’d made.

Those notes from 20 years ago….they transport me back to the Cozy House, to my slope-floored kitchen with its knotty pine cabinets. To the Mother-in-Law’s tongue that my co-worker Sandy gave me decades ago, thriving in a pot in the corner. The dogs’ and cats’ food and water dishes slightly underfoot on the lavender linoleum. The Asian blue patterned containers holding the cooking utensils on the counter next to the little one cup coffee maker. The bottom drawer where the casserole dishes lived, the one that always went cattywampus when I tried to close it. My beloved Norge stove.

We never ate dinner at the kitchen table, only breakfast on weekdays, just as it had been at my parents’ house growing up. I tried to get us to do so once and only once. It was disastrous and all three of us wound be miserable.

Doing dishes, by hand as we never had a dishwasher, standing at the sink looking out into the backyard from the white-framed casement the window. My view was beneath the arch of a tree that was slowly growing its way into the house, bending the gutter a little more each year. Ex-Pat and I talked about one day remodeling the kitchen, making it bigger, though it was a good size already. We would have built out the kitchen around the tree, leaving it free to grow as tall and as strong as it wanted.

That view from the window had grown over the decades from a dirt yard with giant wooden spools as tables in various places, to a bower of beauty, with the greenhouse that ex-Pat had built by hand as its centerpiece. Beautifully cold in winter but always warm with memory of summer. Sparkling with promise in spring. Glowing with trailing golden cottonwood leaves in fall. And raging and singing in its glory on the warmest days and nights of summer,

It all lives only in my memory now, as I sit at a different table in a different life, the wind swishing the pine boughs outside the door, the blue sky shy beneath sheer white clouds, the Stellar’s Jay keeping silent company, my coffee now grown cold.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That I’m alive
  • Cats
  • Music
  • Driving
  • Sweatshirts

Yesterday was another day with hard and soft spots. It was wonderful to have breakfast with dear A, who gave me some lovely art and the good kind of bath salts.

I went to the cozy house in the afternoon as the sun started its lowering behind the mountains, which I can now see clearly since all the trees in town are gone. They had sprayed the ruins with some kind of greenish material to keep the ashes from blowing around in the winds. I knew this was going to happen after the sifting. Maybe I thought they’d let me know when they were going to do so, but they didn’t. Somehow, it made it harder to be there. I reclaimed a few pieces of yard metal and then just sat on the few remaining bricks of the patio by the greenhouse and bawled. I really need to remember to bring a handkerchief. And I really hope the town tells me when they’re going to bulldoze and clear all the debris. I will need to be there for that. It will be a funeral of sorts.

Once again, sitting there, I could see the trees that shaded parts of the yard, see little K running barefoot across the little bridge ex-Pat had built, see my herb garden, my perennial bed, my center bed with the moonflowers that smelled so luscious at night. The circle bed where I tried unsuccessfully to grow honeysuckle but had great luck with Cosmos, California Poppies, Bells of Ireland, and the occasional sunflower and pumpkin before the squirrels had their way with them. The vegetable garden. The new garden with my wonderful hammock. All lost. It’s still so hard. One of those unexpected hairpin curves on the grief road. I’m thinking about just making the space a huge garden until I can figure out this whole rebuilding thing.

Since I got so very sad, I stopped to visit a dear friend for some puppy therapy and delayed returning to the Retreat until this morning. It’s always nice to take the drive at sunrise. It’s lovely and quiet here and the snow is melting. Spring is on its way. It can’t come too soon for me.

Poinsettias are usually not classified as things that last, but this one, scanty as it may appear, is special. It is ten years old. My boss gave it to me when I got back from ushering my Mother through her death. It was awkward, she said, because it was Christmas, and she wanted to give me flowers, but…it was Christmas, so she gave me a poinsettia. She was my boss then, ten years ago, and after the twisting, turning roads of the corporate world, she is my above boss-boss at my current company.

Poinsettias usually only last a season. And they are toxic to cats. This one has lasted a decade, and Mr. Man has had no problems with it. It is special. It represents my Mother. These were her last days, ten years ago, and I was with her every minute. It is a difficult time for me. As I have said each year, I live through every moment on some subconscious level. This year, with the turmoil of the election and the issues that it has raised for many women, myself included, I have found myself reliving other tragic and traumatic incidents from my past, owning them, writing about them (and wondering if I should make these writings public) and trying to let them find their place in my soul. It is not a peaceful process, but it will have a peaceful outcome. Every memory, sweet or agonizing, is and always will be, a lasting part of me.

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Lafayette, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “We all have our time machines, don’t we. Those that take us back are memories…And those that carry us forward, are dreams.” — H.G. Wells

Daily gratitudes:
Helping others
Fellow nasty women
Seeing MKL for the first time in three days
My giant coat on bitter cold days
That tickle of courage when I look at terrifying events of my past

 

 

My memory. My memories. They are elusive at times, and at other times, random memory flash to front of my mind. On the bus home, I thought of two metal snakelike belts that I had about 30 years ago, one silver, one gold. I can remember the feel of them in my hands. I can remember when I had to stop wearing them because the clasp was bent in an irreparable way. They weren’t particularly special and I’ve owned hundreds of articles of clothing. So why would that just pop into my mind as I gazed at the mountains? It makes me think that everything – everything – we have done, experienced, thought, dreamed, smelled, or felt is stored in our brains, if we could only access it all. As my memory tends to fail me more often than I’d wish – because of concussions, West Nile, Dengue, or overload – I find the thought that it’s all in there, stored in the gray matter, quite a comfort, and a beacon of hope. I keep that dim fear of Alzheimer’s, which my mother had, though she remained blessedly asymptomatic until the end, tucked away in a corner pocket of my consciousness somewhere, but I wonder, if it were ever to strike me, would I have more access to those seemingly insignificant memories, like the feel of a belt in my hand?

If objects have memory (and I suspect they do), imagine the memory of this bannister, of the hands that touched it over the last 250 years.

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Beaufort, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough.” — Irwin Shaw

Daily gratitudes:
The man who rescued the terrified cat from the side of the speeding eight-lane interstate
Early evening light
Clean sheets
Sending my daughter to do the grocery shopping when I don’t feel good
Outlander

I had the pleasure of watching the California Zephyr pull into Union Station on my way into work the other morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a train trip of any length, and it’s on our to-do list. When I was 14, my parents took E-Bro and me on a train trip up from Durham to DC to Montreal, across Canada to Vancouver, and then down to Seattle and San Francisco. (My father woke me up at 3:00 a.m. so we could get off the train and say we’d been to Moose Jaw.) It was wonderful and I’d love to do a trip like that with MKL. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with watching the Zephyr come and go.

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Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “She had more curves than a scenic railway.” —  P.G. Wodehouse (one of my favorite authors)

Daily gratitudes:
Migraine medicine
That the lady at the DMV gave me three tries to get a good driver’s license photo (maybe)
Blue skies
How nice everyone at Western Washington University has been to deal with
Having my blog shared by my Southern Soul Sister at So Does That Mean I’m Southern

We have reached a high of 14 today, as warm as it has been in days and days. Perhaps I’ll put on a sarong and flip-flops. Or perhaps not. I am curled up on the couch today, battling a migraine, and watching football players do amazing things in the eastern snow, backing up my computer, and snuggling with Mr. Man. I am warmed today by the memory this image conjures up for me, of driving back from a Labor Day with Kelsea, when we stopped somewhere between South Dakota and Wyoming, at this turn to nowhere surrounded by nothing but sunflowers, and we hugged in such a way that it is imprinted on my soul. If that hug were the last memory I summoned before I left this earthly plane, I would be happy.

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Somewhere in the mid-West.

Quote of the day: “Hope and courage and risk dwell inside of us on an uncharted island and if we learn to look for it and tap into it, our possibilities are endless.” — Katie Kacvinsky

Daily gratitudes:
Blankets
Deep sleep (despite the dreams)
Tamara
Quiet days
Migraine medicine
Safe travels for beloved friends

I’m still psychically reeling from the Marathon bombing yesterday, so it was good to be able to work from home today, and watch the snow outside. My migraine passed in the night, but the frozen okra that I used as an icepack will never be the same. I guess many things will never be quite the same after yesterday. On a lighter note, I discovered today that if you put a plastic bottle of root beer in the freezer and forget about it, and then remember it, and open it, it produces evil, sickly sweet, bubbly, tube-y things that look and taste and sound as if they come from a cafeteria in hell. Okay, maybe that wasn’t on a lighter note…

Today’s rose is in remembrance of all those lost in body and spirit yesterday.

A Rose for Remembrance

Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the Day: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” — J.R.R. Tolkien (and with my thanks to Elsa.)

Daily gratitudes:
Big fat round robins
The bald eagle that flew over me as I was shovelling the walk
Warm blankets
Grey light on white snow
My red sweater

The Banker’s Lamp

My emerald shade has cast a puzzling ivory glow across decades of ledgers
As gnarled hands carefully ink figures that signify a man’s fate
Across slender columns on a lined page.

I have watched fortunes won and lost on the turn of a track,
The roll of dice,
A gamble of land,
All from a distance, of course.
I only see the outcome
Never the game.

I have watched sums carefully
Set aside
So carefully
Saved for that day when
It is time to spend
Rather than to earn
And seen death take the reins in hand,
Proving caution futile.

I have watched as all wealth fled
In a trickle and in a rush
Wasted upon killing habits
Or squandered upon reckless whims.

I have seen it all,
Decades and decades of it all
And I remain unchanged
If slightly dusty
Waiting each day for those hands
To pull a brass chain
So I may aid a pair of watery blue eyes
Behind wire spectacles
Until those hands again
Pull the chain.

 

Note: This is Day 1 because I got started late, and so, I’m catching up.

Stanzas of Remembered Flowers

Lavender
I tried so hard to grow,
Neglected by long hours of too much work and finally
Dug up to death by my ex-husband
after the end of everything.
But it’s scent – bottled –
shines on my pillow on sleepless nights
and reminds me of my mother.

Violets
my grandfather’s favorite scent, my mother (yes, her again) told me.
I have a small cask of violet scent
that I cannot bear to open
because if I use it
it will be gone
and then I will not know what my
grandfather’s favorite scent was.
It has been on my shelf for so long
it likely smells now only of dust.

Gardenias
along the brick front steps
of the house where I grew up,
the blossoms a rare treat,
exotic and sensual in their scent.
I would spend time
picking off the little bugs that would harm the plant,
trying to keep it alive
even as the blooms turned golden brown,
their fragrance dragged down into the mud by age and air.

Daffodils
as a first hope
when winter seems unbearable,
tightly budded turned to trumpeting blooms
with a scent so scant one must know how to smell for it
but so fresh and full of spring as a ball of sunlit butter or warm kitten fur.
I sneak sniffs of their yellowness in the grocery store
floral section
and remember scampering over rocks
in fields that were full lush ripe joyous overwhelming endless
of them.

Roses
a drunken rainbow of colors
in the past and present and future,
dried and hanging from the ceilings and walls of the bungalow,
single corsages of forgotten origin tucked away in boxes,
saved so I would always remember.
The dozen yellow roses that my parents sent me
when my daughter was born.
Yellow roses.
Always my mother’s favorite.

Lilacs
consuming my small house
that I no longer live in,
their bushes roof-high,
their branches old and gnarled,
but every few years
the weight of their harvest
encompasses all the old white boards
and fading red trim
and transforms
an ordinary little old domicile
into a bower of magic.

So many more
captured in the mind’s eye,
in the recollected scent of complicated night breezes
and happenstance passages,
so many more to name
but every poem must
have an end

Or at least a pause
to cleanse the palate
and clear the senses.

My Mother’s birthday was last week.  I forgot it this year.  I think this is first year since she died that I’ve forgotten it. Of course, I always seemed to forget it when she was alive, and she was (so she said) okay with that.  She wasn’t the sort to make much of a fuss about that kind of thing. So she probably wasn’t surprised that I forgot it this year. In fact, I expect she’s kind of pleased. I know she thinks my grieving has gone on waaaay too long.  And really, I’m not grieving anymore.  It’s just that the loss and the absence of both her and my Father is still tender.  A deep bruise on my soul that I can only touch lightly lest it hurt too much.  I doubt it will ever heal much more than it is now.

A few weeks ago, we cleaned out the garage, and I brought a few remaining boxes of things from my Mother inside to unpack. There they sat in the solarium, untouched save for Thunder Cat sharpening her claws on the cardboard, until my niece/roommate said, “Do you think you could do something about those boxes?” Which is her nice way of saying “Your clutter is driving me nuts, you insane surface-dwelling packrat.” A perfectly reasonable request; after all, one can’t just have a room filled with cardboard boxes just sitting there forever, can one?  Well, actually one can, if one is my Dad, but that’s another story.  In a shared home, it’s just not okay.

We tentatively agreed to resolve this issue on Saturday night, with a couple of bottles of wine and a box cutter. Rereading that, it sounds like we’re getting drunk and fighting to the death, but we’re not – we just agreed to tackle this chore together.  What with chile festivals and flea markets and bicycle rides, we ended up arriving home at different times, me with MKL, and her an hour or so later. So I settled down to open Box #1.

Oh my.

The day my Mother died, after making the requisite phone calls, E-Bro and I started to pack her things up. He tackled the little office, living room, kitchen. I packed up the bedroom and bathrooms. So many things, and I was not in a place to make decisions then.  I was raw and suicidal and heartbroken.

When I opened this first box, all those feelings came flooding back at me like I had jumped into hyperspace.  I had packed in a way that showed how I couldn’t bear to discard anything that was my Mother’s.  The box had two little packets of tissue, and three boxes of Irish Spring. It had photo albums of my pictures that I had given to my Dad as Christmas gifts in the years before he died. It had the fleece blanket she had kept over her in her deathbed.

It still carried her scent. Almost six years later.

I started to cry.

MKL came over and put his arm around me, asked if there was anything he could do. He was just there – which is exactly what I needed. He took the blanket and wrapped it up in a separate bag, so it might retain some of its scent, and shared with me a similar experience from his grandfather’s passing.

Then I cleaned myself up and we made shrimp.

I can only manage one box at a time, I told Niece when she got home.  She was cool with that, as long as I was making the effort.

Last night, after I got home, I tided up a bit and opened box Number Two.  Again, it showed a certain amount of randomness and attachment to the moment. There were her art books and portfolio from the mail-order painting class she had taken when I was very small, perhaps about three. I can still remember her, sitting at her easel in the sunny study. A little white T-shirt that she used to wear. Two nightgowns. A caftan – I have pictures of her wearing that at our last trip to Topsail, three months before she died. It was her favorite. I put the T-shirt and nightgowns in the wash. I put the caftan on the foot of my bed.

There were some more fleece blankets – ones that DIDN’T smell like her. And a comforter that I made for my Father.

And then a satchel, a newer version of the kind my Father carried to work every day, filled with yarn. I put my hand in to see what it was.

It was a soft green afghan that she was knitting, the needles still in place in the yarn, at the point when she stopped, a few days before she died. She was knitting it for me. It was a pattern I had always wanted her to make for me, ever since I was a very little girl – moss green, with beautiful pink roses on it.

It will never be finished now.

I took a deep breath. And put my head on my arms on the kitchen table and sobbed my heart out.

I still have more boxes to unpack.

June 2022
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