When we feel sad and spent with eyes damp from tears it’s hard to see our blessings in life. In time the curtain shall part, allowing the sun to shine through again.”
Yesterday, as they each scooted out, I quickly shut the door behind them. The calendar is confused here in St. Louis. Even though it is November, the temperatures keep shouting, “February!” Normally, I’d follow them to their cars, but because of the cold, I watched them through my frosted window pane. Hustling around brick corners, they hopped into vehicles that would drive them away. Warm woolen coats, piles of leftovers with red plastic lids, dogs on leashes, and a babe in arms, all gone into the starry night.
I’ve seen my sons grow from little lads fighting for survival into grown-up men; one with a beautiful wife and a toddling daughter by his side. Each has left the nest to make their own, and I have done my job. Although they live with chronic conditions, the day has come when they are stable. Not so long ago, through sleepless days and nights I prayed for this time to come. In a sense I hope for another “Groundhog Day;” today and tomorrow and tomorrow again.
My house is quiet now. The sound is stark and deafening. I miss my two son’s loudness and my grand-daughter’s giggles of yesterday. My home is strewn with naked dolls, books and blocks, and china near the sink. On my kitchen counter, a miniature bowl of melted whip cream with barely a dollop of pumpkin pie on top. I must remember that my “mother’s” job has come and gone. I’ve raised babies into good boys, and then morphed them into better men. The oldest has found his soul-mate: what a gift he has in her. Someday, too, my youngest will discover his “pearl” within this great blue sea of life. I sense he longs for what his brother has found, but his time is hidden well beneath.
Today my boys are both grown. They are happy and “healthy,” making my heart sing with joy. If and when the dreaded quietness becomes too much for my ears to bear, that’s the sound that I shall hear…..
Today and tomorrow and tomorrow again.
I’m cooking today. Yes, it’s true. Nothing like my Grandmother used to do, rising early to bake her home-made dark, Swedish rye bread. She always wore a cotton dress, nylon stockings and “comfort” shoes, with a freshly pressed flowered apron tied at her waist, and a big organza bow behind her back.
This Thanksgiving morn kindles fond memories of my Aunt Barb. She was the eldest of my father’s seven siblings, always a special one to me on this day. My aunt made Thanksgiving look and feel like a Hallmark commercial or a “pop-up” cut-out card to be treasured in a box under the ruffle of my bed. If she were alive today, she would long be in the midst of Thanksgiving preparations, cozy and warm within the confines of her Bay City, bungalow. Like a snow-globe found in a department store, a child’s hold could shake it to see her smiling there while stuffing turkeys, preparing pies, or filling crystal candy dishes for her nieces and nephew’s with colored, M&M’s.
My aunt Barb took it upon herself to create an extended tradition for my enormous family, one that I have never forgotten. Generous in spirit, humble and kind, she was a special person through and through. Blessed to have escaped a rare gene that ravaged the lives of three of her younger sisters, she made silent promises to God, I believe, in going above and beyond in ways others could not.
My aunt’s house was not a large home, two bedrooms and a bath. Her galley kitchen was small with black and white linoleum covering the floor. I remember the stairway going to the basement was directly in the back, with a windowed door in between. On Thanksgiving, it was forever left open. Once you passed through, magic began to happen. I can still hear the clicking sounds of my patent leather Mary Jane shoes as I raced my cousins down the stairway to the heart and home of Thanksgiving.
The basement was divided into two large rooms. It wasn’t finished in a fancy custom design like basements are today. No, simple cement block walls greeted me, painted in bright and cheery pastel colors. I remember being in awe of an extra kitchen at the bottom of the basement stairway, making me believe my aunt was rich! Looking back, it was nothing more than a row of necessities to make life easier on Thanksgiving Day. An old farm sink in shiny white, a gold oven with a big round clock on top and a white refrigerator that made buzzing sounds. Still, extra turkeys browned and baked within the oven’s warmth, jiggly salads of jello chilled in the refrigerator’s coolness, while dishes were endlessly washed within the basin of the sink.
The basement’s tile floor beneath our shoes was shiny and bright. There was a corner where all of us kids took turns bending down to see our faces in it. Windows were all around the bottom of the cement wall, allowing fall sunlight to peer in. Our cousins smashed pink noses flat against the glass of dust to see us from the outside. In return, we teased them from the inside. They were missing all the good stuff! The smells of pumpkin pie, the games we played and oh, the fun we had down the basement there!
In the next room was a table the length I’d never seen before. Actually it was a combination of several little tables, all pushed together with many mis-matched cloths on top so one and all could sit together. Anticipation seemed to last f.o.r.e.v.e.r! Finally, my mother, together with all of my aunts took turns bringing in plates of delicious food. Carefully, they sat each colored platter and bowl on top of tables while lifting lids up above to allow steam to escape. I marveled at the twirling smoke, watching it swirl to the top of the ceiling. Soon my father said the Thanksgiving Day prayer, giving thanks for our many blessings, and always to Aunt Barb who had brought our great big family together, making us all one for the special day.
After bellies were full, women pitched in to help clean-up, children scattered outside to play make-believe, while men trudged upstairs to the living room to watch afternoon sports on a colored television. Babies cried, mother’s bounced them on their knees, and daddies passed them back and forth. Toddlers teetered, older cousin’s sneaked M&M’s from crystal bowls, little boys played cowboys, and I dreamed imaginary tales while talking with my cousin in the “woods” beside my aunt’s shingled house. There wasn’t any woods, really. An extra lot with a few trees, but to me it was Sherwood’s Forest….
When I picture my Aunt Barb today, I see her like she always was. A beautiful face with skin the color of perfect porcelain. With eyes as bright as the ocean blue, they truly were the “windows to her soul.” She had a tremendous love for family together with an amazing zest for life. She did almost anything she ever wanted. My aunt traveled the world while helping others. She laughed every day, danced with the two of her legs while twinkling her eyes. I remember as a little girl, she used to tell me I was her special gift because we shared the same birthday. Truth be told, she was my special gift.
Year after year, my Aunt Barb brought our overflowing family together on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve cherished those memories ever since. I will forevermore.
Like children jumping off pages of a story book, they’d skip along the sidewalk holding hands. One was older but slighter, the other bigger but with a baby’s pudginess. Without words, they clasped hands to signal brotherhood. A lifetime of protection. Orange pop-cycles dribbled down wrists, leaving squiggly stains of wonder within their eyes. From the window screen, I heard them giggle. The two compared arms, pointing to each other as if a spaceship had landed! Mandarin liquid dripped faster than quivering lips of four could lick or keep up. It was the afternoon heat of desert after all!
I had no way of knowing it then, but my oldest son, the one who wore red canvas sneakers tied loosely upon his feet walked steps closer to being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Soon, his childhood innocence would be snatched out from under him. Perplexing puzzle pieces were locking into place. Different sizes and shapes were coming together. Eventually, they would all match to make a picture portrait for me to understand.
Thanksgiving week is here. It is no more apparent to me that good health above all else is most important in life. Not wealth, status, power or privilege. Good health matters most in all of this world. God is smart to be sure. He gives us what we can handle, leaving the rest for us to figure out. Still and forever more, He guides us along our way. Often He’s there to help us discover hidden lessons in life. Before long, we learn how hard we must work while not playing the martyr.
Without realizing it, luck is on our side. This perhaps, is the first life lesson to learn while living with a chronic illness. Through the years there is much more to understand. We grow and pass on what we have been given. For we are the lucky ones.
Yes, the lucky ones….
I tossed and turned all night, the leftovers of a fever and a cold. For whatever reason my mind was writing in the dark, no keyboard present, no notepad to scribble upon. I have this blog of course and a book I’m knitting, but sometimes the best words tumble out at the worst times it seems. 2, 3, 5 and then finally 6 am. Safe to venture into the quiet of the morning where I sip a cup of decaf within the cocoon of library shelves.
It might have been anticipation that steered my mind away from slumber. It’s true that I’ll be at my desk for most of the drizzly day, but when the clock strikes four all sunshine and fairy-land will begin. “Ding-Dong” the bell shall ring. I will have to contain myself, for behind the leaded glass a smudged face of lilliputian size with blue eyes as big as saucers will be waiting there. “POOF,” there she is, a miniature magic princess is upon my front portico.
Until her parents leave she plays the timid mouse. It’s a dress rehearsal of sorts for she soon marches into independence becoming the boss of the house which delights me so. She reaches for my hand, “Grandma, come,” marching me into her playroom where the “routine” begins. Imaginary tea-parties dance along a make-shift table, where “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “Raggedy-Ann,” pull up miss-matched, antique wooden painted chairs. Carefully, she decides the perfect animal cookies for her guests, while rocking her favorite baby gently in the crook of her left arm. Not yet two years old, she is already the best of future Mamas-to-be!
Next, she chooses story books for me to read aloud long kept from years ago. We snuggle like two bugs under an old crystal covered floor lamp. Much like I did when I read to my own children at her age, silly voices ‘high’ and ‘low’ are heard within the soft hush of the room. She squirms and twists upon my lap, reaching for my mouth with eyes all a wide. Soon she’s figured it out, “Yes, it’s Grandma!” Falling down into balls of giggles, quickly she jumps back up upon her feet. “Again!” she says before the cycle begins anew.
She’s a beauty
with skin soft and smooth
and eyes the color of “Bahama Blue.”
A genius like her parents,
full of spirit like them too.
I’d steal Cinderella’s castle for her or slay a moose if I must,
Instead, I’m gifted time and tea-parties…
Thank you, God, no better way to spend upon this earth, I trust.
My Gracie-Girl has a birthday today, becoming a big girl at the age of four. I discovered this post together with a nostalgic tear in my eye. Happy Birthday, Sweet One.