The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

November’s News November 20, 2014

Today the sixth grade went on a field trip to see a production of The Secret Garden by Albany’s Capital Repertory Company. A quick, last-minute search informed me that it was a musical – not what I’d expected (Lucy Simon, Carly’s big sister wrote the music, Marsha Norman the lyrics). At first my heart sank at the discovery, but no matter, I figured it would be a good production. Happily, the show did not disappoint, and even though I, as a driver and chaperone, paid my own gas and parking, I feel it was worth the expense. These rare day trips are always worth whatever small sacrifice I need to make, because this era of ‘parents going along too’ won’t last forever. Plus I want very much to have these shared memories with my son, and with his classmates, too.

In Elihu’s first full year at Waldorf I was present for just about every single field trip the class took. The following year, in spite of a full schedule playing piano at the school, I somehow managed to attend most of the trips, and even though I had to beg out of a class again today, I managed to go along once again. I don’t take any of this for granted, I feel it’s a true gift. As a parent with the flexibility to be there, it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t go when I was able. Although on the car ride back Elihu played the perfect eleven-year-old boy, making crazy jokes with his buddies and laughing the whole ride, when it was just the two of us again driving home from school, he effused over the production. He told me that he ‘was in tears for much of it’. (I found it moving too, but not to the degree that he did.) And that each actor played an instrument – and sang as well – he found that more than impressive. When we got home he was excited to call both his father and grandma to tell them about his day at the theater.

Tomorrow is the fall school assembly, and although the orchestra’s too large to fit on the stage and so won’t be performing (much to Elihu and grandma’s great disappointment), Elihu will be singing with the middle school chorus as well as doing a spoken word piece with his class, and also a eurythmy performance in costume. (As a self-respecting sixth grade boy he cannot openly admit to enjoying his movement performance, but in private Elihu has several times told me how beautiful the costumes are and how much he’s looking forward to wearing them.) Tomorrow should be another good production. And for once I’m not accompanying anything, and I will be thoroughly enjoying my non-participatory role in the audience.

A couple of days ago I had my first hair cut and color in over seventh months. (I know.) I just love the place I go to; it’s homey, comfortable and casual and I almost always meet someone new and enjoy some pleasant conversation when I’m there. I have a great respect for those who can cut and style hair; they express such nuance with each creation. And that no two heads are the same just makes what Wendy does for me all the more impressive. She’s a talented woman, and I’m grateful that I found her. (She always makes Elihu feel like a rockstar, too.) It’s been so long since I’ve felt like spending the money on myself, but truth be told, there’s almost never a good time. Somehow, this month my bills were caught up and I’d even managed to tuck some Christmas gifts away early, so I was able to free myself from the guilt of the extra expense and enjoy being there. Freedom from worry is good, yes – but even better is that fresh haircut feeling. ! And I know I’m just kinda sneaking this in here – but I’ve lost 15 pounds since September on a renewed dieting campaign, and it hasn’t been til now that I’ve felt I deserved spending the money on my hair. Diet results or not, I’ve done a lot over the past seven months. I’ve covered some ground and made some improvements in my corner of the world. This was a nice reward.

Beyond today, I’m not sure what will fill our time when school lets out for break, as the Thanksgiving vacation week looms long and empty at the moment. It’s the first Thanksgiving that Elihu will have been here in years. Last year, while Elihu was in Illinois with his father, we four Conants had our last meal together while dad was alive. I remember the food was so good that we ate robustly, hardly checking in a moment with each other. It was only as dad wiped his beard and began to push away from the table that I realized…. this was probably was, no – it was – our very last meal together as a family. I’d felt both sad and grateful in that moment – sad that it had felt so natural that I’d let it pass without any special moment of savoring it, grateful that we, who hadn’t eaten as a group around the same table in a decade or more, had all been here together one final time. In a way it was perfect that Elihu was absent; it gave us our last real moment as a family. I’m grateful for it, grateful, grateful. Hard to believe it was a year ago. That the season of my dad’s death was a year ago. This year, thank God, we’ll have the energetic addition of young Elihu to help keep things happy and bright. Mom’s even inviting another couple to join us. Things feel much better than they had originally. One concern however, is Andrew. After several months of attending AA meetings every single night, he’s fallen off the wagon yet again. (An intervention was never done at the insistence of a friend in AA who ended up mentoring – and then giving up on – Andrew.) This is an emotionally charged time, and Andrew is a goddam time bomb. It’s one thing to call the sheriff in to prevent him from taking a knife to me with immediate family present, it’ll be a horror show if it happens in front of folks we don’t know all that well. (I suppose it would be even more horrific should he actually make good on his threats.) With his nephew being present, that might help mitigate things. Never can tell with Andrew. We shall see.

Martha was taken to the hospital day before yesterday – her sixth (or perhaps seventh?) such visit over the past year. I’m always prepared for it to be ‘the time’, but it never is. I was glad that Elihu’d brought his string bass to the farm the other night to play for her. He played her favorite song “Simple Gifts” and other things, all of which made her happy and brought up stories from when she was a music teacher at Skidmore College half a century ago. Then Elihu found a shofar from the farm’s music room and after a few minutes found he could play a couple of discernible notes on it. That again brought up another story. Mom too was there with us in the kitchen, and Martha’s hound dog Masie made the rounds sitting on our feet as we visited… “If this visit to the hospital is to be Martha’s last, at least we had a good time the other night” I had thought to myself. But within a day she was given the green light, and yesterday I found myself wheeling Martha back up the stairs and into her enormous farm house once again. Which is where she ought to be. It’s always best to be home.

And tonite I find myself actually enjoying my home in a free moment. To-do lists done for the day, laundry, dishes, tidying… All of it done. The kid is even asleep. Often it takes Elihu a very long time to fall out, but today was full and after reading a chapter or two he was ready to sleep. I so seldom find myself in this place – usually it’s not until late that I can sit in front of my computer. Usually I feel the dull panic of a night growing later, and the morning looming just around the corner… But right now I am fairly content in the middle of a peaceful night, in my cozy, candle-lit living room in the middle of a month that hasn’t turned out as badly as I’d expected it to. As far back as I can remember, this was the month I always hated most of all. It was bleaker than any other month. It was gray and cold and snowless. And aside from a recent dusting of snow (we’re six hours east of the snowbound region of New York), so far this is just about as I remember all Novembers to be. But somehow, what with all life’s tiny diversions, I haven’t been so disheartened by the month this time around. Yes, it’s been cold and bleak out, but thankfully there’s been enough going on inside to keep our lives warm and colorful. Ah, but let’s all hope that it doesn’t get too colorful around here in a week’s time… Because as much as we all like a good story, I think we can agree that sometimes no news really is good news.

 

Ashes December 30, 2013

Today my dad will be cremated. Not something we haven’t talked about, not a word we’ve never uttered before, still it feels bizarre. To know that your father’s body will be put into an extremely hot oven and burned to ashes. On one level it seems out-of-body strange, yet on another it seems as practical and down-to-earth as it gets. Certainly (at least in my heart) it honors the body so much more than filling it up with chemicals, inserting plastic filler or wires to hold things just so… And yet, it’s hard to wrap one’s brain around. It’s just not something most folks have to deal with more than a few times during the entire course of their lives – and even if we do have to make these end of life decisions, it’s not dinner table conversation. But maybe it should be. Maybe it would be a little easier territory if we made it less mysterious.

As I’ve gone through the past two days, doing errands and catching up on life, I’ve been constantly, ever-so-subtly aware that my father still exists. That his body, just as I saw it last, still lies in Saratoga, his white hair just so, so too his beard, those certain spots on his forehead, and those marvelous hands. They all still exist, I tell myself over and over as if clinging to this fact to make things better. As I drove to the grocery store I took the long way around, passing the funeral home and pondering my dad, still there, somewhere within that enormous Victorian mansion, lying there, hands on his chest in his navy blue flannel pajamas. It’s a refrigerated room, of course. Can you imagine how cold he is? I think. But he’s just a body, I remind myself. Just plain old organic matter that would become a stinking mess if you left it out. I go around and around, considering both sides of this idea to no fruitful conclusion. There is none to be made.

I had to pull over and park. I sat, studying the house, looking into the upstairs bedrooms-turned-offices and just wondered at this unknown world. In the end, it’s just a business for these guys. My father is just another body and I am just another client. But in what limited experience I’ve had with professionals in the death industry, I can say that they are by no means cold and jaded. While it may be business as usual for them, the folks I’ve met so far have been extraordinarily compassionate and kind. This funeral home is on North Broadway, a street lined with ancient trees and opulent mansions from the grand years of Saratoga Springs. Just across the street is the new-moneyed, Disneyesque Riggi mansion, all bedecked for the holidays in thousands of tiny white lights. A few houses to the north is the grand white house of Charlie Wait, the president of the local bank. I remember my dad getting a business loan on a mere handshake with Charlie’s father years ago. I remember the lobby’s vaulted ceiling and the huge oil paintings on the wall. I remember how they chatted like old friends…. I laugh to myself at dad’s final address. He was forever making jokes about wanting to be rich, forever positing funny scenarios of himself in that good life – instructing the staff, taking his lunch on the patio, making important calls… So now here he is, residing on tony North Broadway. It makes me smile. I snap a picture of the funeral home, and now starting to cry, I drive home through the rain.

Last night I called my mom. Didn’t stop by, as I’d been too busy trying to find Christmas gifts for Elihu and shopping for the produce that I’ve gone without the past week or more. To be honest, while I’d thought also of her throughout the day, I’d quickly turned my attention to something else, as I was afraid to consider how she was really doing. I have a full life and much to do to keep my mind off of dad’s passing, but mom, she lived virtually in service to him. Truly, her life was in her home; her cats, my brother, my dad. And all my life mom has always cooked exceptional food for us. In dad’s final days, while things did become radically different, she took no less care in feeding him. Rather than spending her days researching recipes, she was now more concerned with quantity of food ingested, the times of the feedings and their caloric content. And she did it well. She stayed on top of things. She’s always stayed on top of things. But now there’s no pressing matter to stay on top of anymore. We talked about it, she herself realizes that she’s got some thinking to do. What will she live for now? How will she define herself? These are questions we all have to face – certainly I myself have some personal experience with those particular questions! But I have a child, and for the time being, no matter what happens to me, I am primarily defined by that role. But to be partnerless, childless, occupationless…. that is something different. Yeah, mom has a challenge ahead of her. And while it may be a transitory challenge, the one most immediately before her – and me too – today, is that of saying the final goodbye to dad as we knew him.

I’ve asked the funeral home to please call us when dad’s on his way – and the crematory, which is a good forty-five minute ride across the border into Vermont, will call us when dad’s ‘going in’. Or whatever terminology they use. The funeral guy himself wasn’t too specific in his language – I still find there’s a lot of dancing around the truth here. While he was enthusiastically supportive about our wanting to know exactly when it was that dad was being cremated – his language was surprisingly euphemistic. Hm. Probably how they need to speak for the comfort of most people. For me, his vague, cryptic language was not so reassuring. But I guess most folks probably appreciate it. Again, I wish this was all easier to talk about. I’ve also been wishing I knew what we could do to mark this final passing of dad’s body… Mom and I had talked about raising a glass of wine to him as he went up to the skies, but is that fair to Andrew? Then, last night, I got it. We’ll light a candle. And then, when dad is gone, we’ll blow it out. Up will waft that thin trail of smoke, and up will waft dad, out and over the snowy Vermont countryside. From that vantage point in the sky I’m sure one can see Greenfield… Then the ashes will come home. Some will be dispersed in the lake where dad spent his boyhood summers, some will go to the veteran’s cemetery, and just a tiny bit will remain here with us.

It’s funny how sentimental we are as humans. Even though I may believe that dad is in a much better place, and even though I know full well that his soul is no longer attached in any way to that old man’s body lying in the funeral home, it still means so much to know that we’ll have something left of dad, even if it’s just a box of ashes.

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Post Script: Dad’s obituary is now up on the funeral home’s site at www.burkefuneralhome.com and folks may make remembrances there if they choose… I’ve heard many stories and anecdotes about dad recounted in the past two days – some I’d even forgotten – so I encourage people to share any one of them publicly on the funeral home’s site…  thanks again for all the love and support.

Btw – dad passed at 11:51 p.m. on the 27th, but as he wasn’t officially pronounced dead by a ‘professional’ until the following morning, the date of death will legally be considered to be the 28th. Sheesh.

 

Heartfelt September 29, 2013

On days like this I feel bad for both my ex husband and my son that they don’t live closer to each other. My ex’s father suffered a heart attack a few days ago and tonight, post-surgery, he is on a respirator facing a couple of tough days ahead. Two days ago I was surprised to hear so little feeling in Fareed’s voice as he described the situation. Rather, he’d sounded almost as if he was trying to sell me on how bad his father was –  perhaps for the value of the drama itself. Even though he seemed to be trying to convince me things looked bleak, he still didn’t register much emotion as he spoke. And because of my take on it, I don’t think I responded as he would have liked. While I was trying to offer my help, maybe I wasn’t as tender as I should have been. I didn’t react with much emotion as I hadn’t sensed much present in him. Instead I matched facts with facts, words with words; I was trying to be positive and logical, and so chose to put the spin on how things would improve, and how it probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed. After all, Martha made routine visits to the hospital with heart-related problems (ironically she too had been admitted to the hospital just yesterday for more of the same). My mom lived with Afib and I had a friend who’d had a quadruple bypass and yet still both ran and played the trumpet professionally. it just seemed heart trouble was, while frightening, something that could potentially be managed.

After I’d first heard the news, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Fareed might have wished for me to have expressed more concern for his dad. It seemed like he wanted me to get that things were dire – and somehow I sensed that he had wanted more support from me. I took this in and thought about it for a minute. Should I make a point of letting him know I was truly there for him? Or was that even my job at all? I paused, remembering that while a few years ago this would have undeniably been my intensely personal family business, it might not be entirely my affair these days. If he needed deep emotional support, wasn’t that what his wife was for? Maybe Fareed was just fine. No way to know, he offered few clues. I know he was worried, but it didn’t truly register in his voice. And then Elihu, after getting off the phone with his father the other night said in a frustrated tone “he’s not letting me in”. All right. So it wasn’t just me. Ok. So what now?

Just this past hour Fareed called again. This time I heard it. The first real emotion I think I’ve heard in his voice since the day we got married and his voice cracked as he said his vows. I heard it – finally, I heard him. Not a sales pitch, not a list of facts that support some evidence – but real feeling. Not something I think I’ve witnessed too many times in our twenty-plus years together. For as much as we’ve been through, there’s always been a cards-to-the-chest quality about my ex. Same with his dad, too. They’re not much for letting folks in. (Which is ironic, in that as a musician – especially a classical guitar player – you’d think the guy would be full of it.) And Fareed’s dad is a sentimental sap about everything. (When Fareed and I told him we preferred a sweet table to a formal cake for our wedding, his father threw up his hands in profound disappointment and said “No cake? Why bother even getting married?” He had been, apparently, quite sentimental about the role of cake at our wedding.) Fareed’s father has always been very moved – sometimes to tears – by displays of affection, love and matters of family. Yet in spite of it, he seems unable to process gritty, and absolutely honest emotion – not merely sentiment. Once he expressed confusion as to why I chose to move to New York to live next door to my folks. Knowing his strong appreciation for family I thought he’d understand it immediately, but no. He also never understood – or registered in any way – why it was that this split from his son had hurt me so deeply. Both of his reactions (or lack thereof) have always puzzled me. In the same sort of way that Fareed’s words puzzled me just recently. It’s as if the pretense of the emotion and the actual feelings themselves aren’t taking place at the same time. But just now, I felt something different; I actually felt genuine emotion from Fareed. And so did Elihu. Finally. Sorry that it took his dad’s heart attack to get here, but it’s good to know he’s present. I think he’s staying by his dad’s side now, and that too is positive news. I’m sure it helps his dad’s spirit to have his son close by.

So where will things go now? In an instant, grudges and bad tastes leftover from unresolved conflicts seem so much easier to set aside when the prospect of death emerges. There, I said it. Yeah, it seems that the threat of death forces our hands in matters of the heart. The threat of possible death makes us reveal our true fears, hastens us to let go matters of the ego, and helps us to finally express our love to each other. When I heard how serious things were, I did a quick check – had I told Riaz that I loved him when I saw him last? Yes, I had. Also I had made an effort to be present with them and enjoy their company when I visited them this past summer in Chicago. It was Riaz who’d driven me to the train station. Yes, we’d had a very sweet visit and goodbye. Ok. That made me feel better. We’d parted in a loving way. And I knew Elihu’d had a nice long stay with his grandpa this summer too. They had a fish tank together and had spent many hours stocking and enjoying it. So there’d been some good grandpa time recently. I confess I made this inventory partly in preparation for that potential sad ending – the one of course we’re hoping against – but the one I sense Fareed wants to emotionally prepare for in some way. This is his one and only, take-charge, get things done, keeper-of-the-curry-chicken recipe dad. His dad. He and his dad are two peas in a pod. Ok, so maybe two peas that don’t really communicate their deep and true feelings very well, but they are father and son, and so that makes this time a very difficult one. It’s a tricky time for grandson too, as he will not accept a sugar-coated version of his grandpa’s condition and must know where things stand.

And for right now the only place we can stand is all together, waiting, with our hearts wide open, in hopes that grandpa’s own heart will heal itself soon.

 

Wait for It… August 5, 2013

I mighta known that the woman who ‘reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’ in the previous post was not in fact, Marylou Whitney, as I had declared her to be. I chose to ignore the tiny voice that kept nagging this woman just doesn’t seem glamorous enough to be Marylou. And in addition to that hunch, this woman’s silhouette actually looked slightly familiar. The photo I had tried to enlarge showed instead Jane Wait, and son Charlie (president of the Adirondack Trust Company) sitting beside her. Jane was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for years. I too was on the board with her. In fact, Jane Wait figured prominently In the summertime world of the Conants for over a decade. She did everything from pen checks to the Festival to help arrange tea and cookies for the intermission refreshments. When I was young, I didn’t see Jane in the larger, social scale of our town. She was just a kind, older woman who showed an interest in dad’s music.

Some memories, unrelated bits of the past come back to me… I remember attending a party at their lake house once, where I met actor John Houseman. I remember he wore a purple jumpsuit and kindly gave me an autograph. I remember learning that Mr. Wait had died in a fire in that house not many years after. I remember that Mrs. Wait also had a daughter my age with whom I got together a few times. I was never able to get into a groove with the girl, in spite of feeling as If I had given it my very best (and the distinct feeling that she had not met me half way). They had a summer house just a couple miles down our road. And I remember I once played piano for Caroline and her mother at their place; it was a blues tune of mine with a little hook in the chorus and a repeating, catchy riff. They insisted I didn’t write it, they both insisted that they’d heard it played before. As an adolescent girl I didn’t have the language to articulate that they were mistaking the form and style for the song itself. That this, being a blues song, shared a common structure and tonality with other blues songs. The moment even got a tiny bit confrontational. My emotional take-away is that Mrs. Wait just knew me to be lying. It changed the feeling in the air between us all. Hey – to be fair, they might not have thought about it another second, but for me, it was insulting, and it showed me I’d been diminished somewhat in their eyes. That afternoon may have been the last time the young Wait and I hung out. We were fundamentally different people.

And today, the Wait’s world and ours intersect in only the very tiniest of ways. Knowing Jane to be ‘getting up there’, I wrote her a Christmas card last year just to reconnect, and to let her know that while dad is losing a bit of his short term memory, he was still very much himself and retained that certain, recognizable twinkle in his eye. And that he sent her his warmest greetings. Jane, as a wealthy pillar of this community is something of a local celebrity, so I didn’t expect to hear back – but at the same time she’s also a real person whose day might be cheered to hear news of an old friend. It made me feel like I’d done something kind; sending the letter warmed my own heart.

Now I can replay the memory of Jane and son Charlie on Friday night, waving from their carriage to the throngs of onlookers, and it makes sense. They are a much more conservative-looking duo. And then when I saw the super-wide brimmed hats trimmed in flowers in that other carriage on the front page of the Saratogian, I got it. Yeah, now that’s Susan Lucci. Now that’s Marylou. And man, they look great. Good Lord, Marylou is 88! (Ms. Lucci, 67). “Hey dad” I said, pointing to the photo of Marylou on the front page, “this woman is your age!” My mother reacted with great agitation. “No she’s not!” she said, almost angrily. Then she began her version of ‘math out loud’… “eight from ten is two….” Sheesh. I looked at her, waiting for the punchline. “Your father is seven years older than me, and I’m 78” she said, her tone still vaguely angry. She clearly thought she was imparting new information. ?? “Yes, I know” I said, still confused. “Marylou was born in 1925!” she emphasized. Still confused. “She’s three years older than your father”. “Yes, I know that too.” I answered, still not seeing her point. “So yeah,” I continued, “she’s about his age. We’re talking three years’ difference.” She went on to demystify her emotional response…”You’ll come to to the point in your life one day when every year counts. You want to be given credit for each year you’ve made it.” She went on to explain with a smile on her face (I just hate it when she smiles when she’s clearly very upset. Ich, it makes me queasy) that when you’re a young child or an older person you cannot make such generalities about age. “When you’re your age, it’s ok. But not when you’re older. Absolutely not.” There was a distinct tone of martyr in her voice, as if she meant to impart that she’d worked and suffered on this planet for seventy-eight years, goddam it and she’d paid her dues… It was rather fascinating to see my mom get so worked up about such a seemingly tiny thing. Hm. Interesting. I’ve been called any number of ages with a good two decade spread, and don’t find it offensive either way. Why mom should find offense at this tiny generality was news to me. “I just mean she looks damn good. That’s all”. (Yeah, and now she looks three years better! I thought to myself.) I shrugged, indicating dad with my eyes. In his pajamas for the umpteenth day in a row, I’d hoped Marylou’s image might serve as motivation for cleaning up a bit. But this is a tired, old and oppressive household. No one’s putting on their Sunday best anytime soon.

I look back at the two beautiful faces on the front page of yesterday’s paper. Honestly, it’s hard to believe their ages. I’ve been told it’s all about the fillers – you know, the tiny injections to keep faces inflated… and man, if the technology exists to create such quality results, sign me up. I admit it, I’m one vain-ass woman, and I don’t wanna be an old lady! After a recent mid-life battle over ‘to color or not to color’ I think I can just end that discussion right here and now. Color. And filler up, too while you’re at it. Do what ya got to do. I realize I may not have the bankroll for the job, and my life isn’t exacatly fodder for the society pages. So I probably shouldn’t hold my breath. But I probably won’t go the conservative, poofy old-lady hair direction of Jane Wait either. I’ll probably end up somewhere in between. But that’s still a ways off. I can wait…

 

Easter Hope April 8, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 10:28 am
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Just read over my post from last Easter. Bright, sunny, warm and full of gratitude and optimism it was. Full of hope for the future. Hmph. This morning marks day three of my tummy not feeling right. At least the headache’s gone. I compare this Easter with last. I’m certainly not feeling as chipper this morning. But stepping back a bit further, I wonder: what’s changed for me in a year? What does Easter mean to me right now? Do I still feel that kind of hope for the future?

Martha no longer has it in her to leave her kitchen. To make the trek to our house for Easter dinner. She has always come to our house for the holiday dinners. This will be the first time ever that she hasn’t, making this past Christmas dinner her last one at mom and dad’s. There has to be a last time, it’s only you hardly ever know while it’s happening that it is going to be the last time. The time you needed to pay careful attention to every little detail lest you forget how it felt, sounded, smelled… My husband always used to say I spent too much time looking back, feeling sad, dwelling on the poignant… Maybe. I like to think it’s about making peace with it, identifying it – showing the past my deep appreciation. I have a memory from Easter, now some ten years ago (as Elihu was not yet born) when it had snowed, and Ruthie’d gotten her car stuck in the driveway. As I helped Martha across the snow and up my parents’ long driveway, I made some comment about getting ‘purchase’ on the snow. “I like that word” Martha’d said in her commanding tone. I’d told her that I agreed. Yes, I told her I’d very much liked the word ‘purchase’ used with that meaning. And I noted how you didn’t hear the word used too often these days in that context. “No, you don’t” Martha agreed, in her broad voice. I remember the snow, the two older women who’d been there for my whole life, still able to walk, drive, conduct a life outside their homes. Ruthie’s been gone six years now.  A lot changes in ten years. Today Martha can hardly manage to leave her kitchen. A lot changes in a year, too.

In my sick bed I found myself pulling two books from a pile I’d intended one day to read. Both were about death. Read “Imperfect Endings” cover to cover; a book about a woman’s process with her mother’s intentional death. Consumed with my own inability to process the idea of the final goodbye, and impatient to take the time to finish another book, I searched for more immediate information on Youtube. Watched a film by Terry Pratchett on assisted suicide. It was enough for now. Got into bed. Felt strangely unsafe in taking my prescription sleeping pill. Dreamt all night of saying goodbyes. Awoke hoping that all this contemplation would make it easier to get down to the nitty gritty before it was too late. I had questions for my dad, my mom. Must ask them. They know I love them, I’m able to tell them, but while they’re still fully present – I must spend some time with them. They will only live on in my witness. My witness, and that of their friends and loved ones. I feel it’s important that I devote some energy to this. This witness to their lives.

Today is a day of supreme witness. Whether we believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection or not, it seems we all share witness to a kind of universal hope on this day. The kind of hope that says ‘things might not be so great today, but they will get better.’ The kind of hope that offers a gentle smile, a shrug of the shoulders, a wink of the eye. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the profound hope and promise of Jesus, most of us allow ourselves to accept a little uplifting of the spirits on this day. In my own home there is a mix of celebration and implied disdain for the holy narrative that inspires the holiday (so too at Christmas). I always find this dysfunctional dichotomy a little hard to take, but as our discussion of things spiritual has been historically limited to discussion about what time I needed to be at church in order to acolyte as a teenager – I’m sure not about to expose the topic now. Better to sip the Bloody Marys and nibble at the shrimp. Talk about the garden. Because now, I have a big swath of earth, turned and ready for seeding, a real almost-garden to talk about. One year ago that was only a dream. Yup, a lot can change in a year.

Been in my sick clothes too long. Must shed them, make the bed, get into a shower. Not quite feeling up to it, but a friend is hosting a brunch, and I’m to be there at 10:30. Moving slow, I’ll definitely be late. She’s giving her granddaughter six baby chicks for Easter on the condition that she let Elihu house them for her. (He agreed.) I’ll meet the new members of our flock shortly.

Later, we’ll bring Martha a pitcher of Bloody Marys and a tray of cocktail shrimp, her favorite. We’ll sit about the dusty kitchen and chat, dad half-nodding, his face showing his discomfort at all the rapid-fire small talk being tossed about the room, scraps of ideas moving too fast for him to make sense of. Once he said we sounded like chickens. I thought this was funny, and accurate. His growing distance from the action allows him some perspective. He may not catch everything that’s said, but he very much gets the gist of what’s going on around him.

I hope he has the stamina for our afternoon, for after we leave Martha and her hound dog alone again, we Conants are off to Winslow’s, a local restaurant known for its simple, home-cooked fare. My mom is found of reminding me that the chef is “CIA trained”. After having a burger there with Elihu a few weeks back (oh-so-indulgently served on thick, buttered toast) I met an attractive man about my age whom I thought might be the owner; he wore chef’s clothes and stood behind the bar ready to settle my bill. I asked him if the accordion player still played there on Wednesdays. After a tiny bit of confusion (he thought I had perhaps mistaken him for that accordion player) he offered that his mother had in fact made him take lessons when he was a kid. “Really?” I asked. “Because I play too. Or did play.” I made some comment about how lame my left hand was with the buttons, making a hand position in the air – he smiled, so I wasn’t off base, but the conversation had no where to go. He was closing, I was paying, and that was pretty much it. But I was intrigued- could this be the ‘CIA trained’ chef? This middle-aged, longish haired fellow who once took accordion lessons? A thought, the likes of which had not once seriously entered my consciousness since moving here, began to flicker… was this man, perhaps – unlikely, but just perhaps – single??

Given the reality of my life plus the cautioning tone of a friend I’d shared this with, I’d decided just to shelve the whole idea. But today I’d be going back. Maybe another opportunity. ? Maybe not. Either way, it keeps me moving through my day, as my sick tummy would rather have me stay in bed. Yes, I can say that it’s hope that compels me onward today. I hope that little Raiden loves her chicks. I hope that Martha enjoys her shrimp. I hope that mom, dad and Andrew enjoy the restaurant. Dare I hope to catch sight of the accordion-playing chef? While he yet exists in my imagination, and I may well learn one day that he’s happily married with three children and a dog, for now I’ll ignore that possibility. After all, today is a day of hope, right?

May we appreciate fully all the good that we’ve had in our lives, the good we have with us right now, and may we keep our hearts open to all the wonderful experiences that we are yet to know. A Happy, Hopeful Easter to us all.

 

161 Years Old January 6, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life — wingmother @ 11:40 am
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Today, January sixth, is both my mother’s and my father’s birthday. Together, they are one hundred and sixty-one years old. (They share a birthday, yet are seven years apart.) We have nothing planned to celebrate; I think the recent soiree at our house on Monday will essentially have served that purpose. I do think mom’s planning on the two of them going out to a good supper at one of Saratoga’s finer restaurants – but that will likely be tomorrow, as she puts in a full day of work today. I wish I had something special for them, but alas, I don’t. I am going to give each some comfy new pairs of socks. Really, who doesn’t like new socks? And at their age, it’s highly likely that they haven’t been out to purchase any in quite a while. My mother seems to have quit buying new clothes a few decades ago… And my father’s new acquisitions depend upon my mother taking up the charge. So it’s likely neither’s had new socks in quite a while. Although it might seem I’m ‘under-gifting’ them, I believe my modest gifts will be thoroughly enjoyed.

Today is also Epiphany, or the day when the three wise men finally reached the manger and gave baby Jesus their gifts. I’ve always thought this day made much more sense as a gift-giving holiday than the date we celebrate. It’s hard for us Americans to understand that much of the Christian world is celebrating Christmas today. In our family, partly because of mom and dad’s birthday – brother Andrew’s is nearby New Year’s Eve as well – we didn’t think of the season as being completed until this day. In a purely secular way we simply thought of this as the logical conclusion to the season. I like that too. Coming to a screeching halt with the holiday – either the 26th or January 2nd – feels much too abrupt for me. I like to coast down easy after all of it… and I can take down my tree and decorations with much less frustration and a better sense of closure and satisfaction when I do so upon full completion of the anniversary of the events we purport to celebrate. Somehow, it makes me feel in better step with the rest of the world. My life just breathes better when I wait til this day to remove the festive red and green. Good-bye Christmas, thank you for all the spirit you helped us to express. Good-bye New Year’s Day, thank you for restoring our sense of hope.

Happy birthday, my beloved parents. Thank you for all that you’ve helped me to be. I wouldn’t be right here, right now if it weren’t for you. Thanks for teaching me about art, music, nature and everything in between. I love you both so much.