Category Archives: Memories

Sicky, Sicky Boy

Elias was home sick from school today. (He’s fine. Also he’s not contagious.)

I took him to express care and let the chatter in the waiting room wash over us without taking much of it in. He sat next to me on a Naugahyde loveseat and burrowed into my armpit. I reached around to rub his back, and said, “Aw. Sicky, sicky boy.”



I haven’t said that in years. My dad always said that, even to us girls, because his older sister said it to him when he was little in the 1930s. Sicky, sicky boy conferred both sympathy and status. If there was any chance you might be faking to get out of going to school, you didn’t hear sicky, sicky boy. It made me a little melancholy thinking about it. So I thought about something else.

Upon release from the doctor’s office, we went to the pharmacy. (Can I get an AMEN for modern pharmaceuticals? Bare hours later, he’s a different kid.) Then the grocery store, which is right next door. Elias was allowed to pick popsicles and cookies, and I added crackers and Sprite. I didn’t think too much about it until I was in the car driving home. His stomach wasn’t upset, so the crackers and Sprite were probably unnecessary. But whenever we were sick, Mom gave us crackers and Sprite. So for no apparent reason, driving down Benner Road toward home, I burst into tears.

This happened to me once before, sort of. I’d stopped at the neighbor’s house to drop something off. The bus had just gone by and my hair was still wet, and she looked at me and said, “I bet you got everybody else out the door and you’re going to work and you haven’t eaten breakfast.” Well, no. I hadn’t. Connie has kids my age and she reads people pretty well, I guess. She handed me two chocolate chip cookies that she was pulling out of the oven and told me to eat on the road. I got in the car and went to work and bawled as the chocolate melted on my tongue.

All of this feels ridiculous. Who cries about fresh chocolate chip cookies? And Sprite?

It has little to do with the food, of course, and everything to do with another kind of nourishment. I told Paul earlier this week that I’m feeling orphaned again. We tried to figure out if there’s some sort of anniversary I wasn’t acknowledging, but we couldn’t think of one.

I don’t know why I’m missing my parents so badly right now. I think, a little, that I’m just missing HAVING parents. When your parents are gone, there is no one left whose job it once was to keep you alive. There is no one left who is always, always supposed to have your back. That you’d automatically get in the divorce. The person you can call about that thing that happened when you were seven, or why your turkey burst into flames in the oven an hour before Thanksgiving dinner? That person is not there anymore.

Apparently, sometimes I want someone to tuck me into a fluffy blanket on the couch and give me a popsicle and tell me they’ll take care of everything. And I want to believe it.

Because ohmygosh this life thing is hard work. And this week, I am tired, and I miss my parents.

Seven

Seven years ago, in the evening, I was leaving a board meeting for a chorus I was singing with, and my cell phone rang. It was our caseworker. “Baby was born,” she said.

She’d called the house a couple of times, finally rousing Paul from sleep for a confused conversation. He’d managed to wake up enough to convey the information that I was at a meeting just a few miles from the hospital. She’d caught me in time, and I could go and see the baby, if I wanted to.

I did.

So off I went, entering through the ER department because it was after hours. A busy nurse pointed me vaguely in the direction of the OB wing, and I explained who I was to the nurse guarding the door there. There was a side room in the hall stuffed with unused-at-the-moment equipment and some chairs. I settled into one, the plastic creaking as I shifted during the wait.

And then there you were. The scrawniest little brown boy you’ve ever seen, all huge dark eyes and wild black hair and chicken legs. I could not have imagined at that moment that at five, you’d nearly be able to knock me over with an enthusiastic hug around the legs.

Scrawny or sturdy, I fussed over you from that moment. Were you eating? Were the nurses holding you enough? Most of all, would you truly be mine forever? Would all the right papers be signed, the Is dotted, the Ts crossed?

I fuss over you still, over your health and your heart and your sweet little soul. You are almost never sick, and I wonder whether we brush you aside too often because we’re worrying over your brother. You are stubborn as sin, and I wonder how to help you learn to channel it into persistence instead of petulance. You are the most curious combination of temper and tenderness.

You are seven. You love your family and your duckling and you hate not being able to do everything Levi does. I cannot freeze you here in this moment, when you are reaching and stretching and learning to do without me, but still need sleepy cuddles in the morning. And I wouldn’t if I could. Not really.

But I will write you down, and I will take your picture. And I will answer the question you ask me the same every time. Every day, every year, every decade, whenever you ask me, and whenever you don’t. Yes. You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, Elias. Thank you for being part of Us.

Daddy Eggs

For breakfast this fine holiday morning, we had a bit of nostalgia.

As Paul and I lolled in bed at a shocking 7:00 AM (remember, this is a man who rises daily without an alarm at the inhuman hour of 4:45), he said, “Ugh. I don’t feel like making breakfast.” He does, most days. He wasn’t really asking me for anything, just indulging in a little kvetching, but I had some bacon left from a recipe, and some time.

“Hey!” I said, “I’ll make Daddy Eggs.”

Daddy Eggs start with bacon strips cut into small pieces and fried. Going into the skillet, they look like this.

I hate frying bacon. I much prefer baking it and skipping all the popping grease. But I’ll fry it for Daddy Eggs. Even if I think up creative nonswears (Lucifer’s flaming hairline!) while I do.

Once the bacon’s done, you drain it. Then you beat a bunch of eggs with a little milk, start them cooking in the same pan, and sprinkle the bacon on top. That’s it. It’s not really a recipe. It earned a name by virtue of being the only thing my daddy ever cooked.

Daddy Eggs were company food. We had them on Sunday mornings when we’d had out-of-town overnight company. It never occurred to me as a child to question the timing, but with age and experience, I have come to realize that Daddy Eggs were a life preserver.

My mother, whose theoretical enjoyment of hostessing was sometimes compromised by the reality of same, was coming off two nights of extra people in the house and company meals, and facing the Sunday morning flat-out dash to church. My father was trying to make sure she didn’t go under.

He probably didn’t much like doing it, really, but he did. In other words, he was a grownup.

I have to be a grownup this week. Tomorrow morning, Levi and I will go to the hospital so he can have a PICC line placed for IV antibiotics. We’ll likely come home Thursday, and for the next couple of weeks, my phone alarm will yell at me multiple times a day so I don’t miss any infusions.

Levi is a little nervous, but mostly fine. I am cranky and resentful and eating all the cookies. It’s not so much the overnight hospital stay, or the IV routine, though both of those things are a pain in the neck. It’s that I don’t want to have to think about cystic fibrosis, and I can’t avoid it for the next little while. I hate it, worse than I hate frying bacon.

You probably didn’t think this is where this blog post was going. Honestly, neither did I. Sometimes in writing, as in life, we arrive in unexpected places. So often, the only choice we have in the matter is how graciously — or not — we go to our fate.

I am, though I sometimes wish it were not so, a grownup. I will attempt to be gracious, and to make memories of the mundane. We won’t have Daddy Eggs at the hospital, but we’ll have something else. (Chicken fingers and pizza in bed has played well in the past.)

And we will, as before, be fine. Just don’t hide the cookies.

Strawberry Shortcake

Last night, Paul distracted the two-legged mauraders long enough to gather a nice bowlful from the strawberry patch. He requested accompaniment.

We are picky about shortcake in our family, truth be told. The first time I was served angel food cake under the name shortcake, I thought there had surely been a tragic mixup.

My Aunt Luella had this recipe, see, and she gave it to my mom, and it was the only  shortcake I knew growing up. It is rich and buttery and eggy, and once you have had it warm from the oven with cold, cut strawberries and whipped cream and maybe a splash of milk, you are ruined for life.

It was one of the first real desserts I learned to make in my teens, and I’ve made it at least once a year since. Paul tasted it after we got married and became an instant convert, although he eats it with ice cream and cannot be considered a true aficionado.

My general policy is that I will make the shortcake on demand, as long as someone else is willing to provide the prepared strawberries. Paul having fulfilled the basic requirement (he convinced my sister to wash and cut them), I was happy to oblige.


The chunks you see on the left are cold butter cut into a flour and sugar mixture. They are tidbits of ambrosia, and the exclusive province of She Who Bakes. The cook always gets the best snitches.

Elias started with a modest portion.


He did not stop there.

I started with an immodest portion.


I also did not stop there.

That’s real whipped cream, by the way. My sister was starting on it and Levi walked up and said, “Why are you whipping that cream?”

“Because it was bad.”

“How long have you been waiting to use that one,” I asked, “your entire life?”

” … maybe,” she said.

And that’s June at the circus.

Oh, That Again

For a person who spends a fair amount of time examining the workings of her own brain and then posting them on the internet, I am sometimes not very self-aware. Over the past week, I have been sleeping fitfully, trying to keep myself from eating everything in sight, and maintaining a tenuous grip on my temper, usually over things that wouldn’t bother me on a normal day. (Whatever that is.) More times than I’d like to admit, I have thought, “What is wrong with me?”

This morning I woke up early to go the gym. I grouched my way through the weights. Everything was heavy. I didn’t feel right. But I finished, and on the way home, I sat in the idling car waiting for a train, and I thought, “I wish I could go to the cemetery before I go home.” Er, what? I’m not a big cemetery visitor. Paul goes a lot more than I do, even to visit the graves on my side of the family. I batted the thought away. Even if I’d been inclined to pay attention, there really wasn’t time. The train passed. I drove on.

And burst into tears, going down a back road past fresh shoots in fields on both sides, and not much else. There was definitely no visible reason for me to be crying as I drove home at 7:30 in the morning.

Seriously, I thought, what is wrong with me?

At that moment, I realized that we are entering the teens of June.

Ah.

I have discovered this before, the creeping up of grief while I am unaware. I have even written about it before. But I am a slow learner.

I was going to say that what is wrong with me is that I am grieving, but that’s not true. The truth is there’s nothing wrong with me. Grief is not wrong. It’s hard, though. It’s a lot of work, and it continues to be work after you think you’re all done. So here we are again, in June, and I feel cranky and exhausted and, yes, a little bit like a motherless child. But now at least I know what’s going on.

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately. I know a lot of people who are grieving. If you are, especially if it’s fresh, I’d like to give you something my mother gave to me. I was sitting at her kitchen table on the worst night of my life, so weighed down I could not lift my head, and I said, “I feel like I’m never going to be happy again. Will I always feel like this?”

This is the answer she gave me: Yes. And no. There will always be times in your life when you remember this and feel this way. Right now it’s all the time. After a while, it’ll only be some of the time. After a long while, it’ll only be occasionally. Yes. This will always hurt this much. But it won’t always hurt this much all the time.

She was right. I have come to think of grief as coming like waves in the ocean. At first it’s like being taken down in rough surf; you can’t even find your feet. You might have a moment or two when you think you never will, that you’ll go under and never come up. After a while, the waves are a more measured. You can stand up. You might get knocked silly by a bad one, but you’re up again before the next one hits. After a long time, they’re mostly lapping around your toes. Maybe a big one gets you right at the knees. Say, when an anniversary approaches and you haven’t been paying attention.

This feels like a knee wave. Unlikely to take me down, now that I’m looking right at it.

So I’ll remember, this week, what my mother taught me about grief, and I’ll miss the way she looked right after she laughed.

And then the anniversary will be over, until next time.

The Scent of Memory

There was a lilac bush by the house I grew up in, by the little balcony on the one side of the house. The house was built into a hill, so if you ran up the stairs on the outside, you’d end on the second floor. The balcony was at the top of the stairs, by a door that opened into the living room.

The lilac bush of my childhood was huge. Once, my mother was up in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom? tending a sick child?) and hadn’t put her glasses on. She looked out the window of the door on the balcony and shrieked fit to wake the dead. When my father darted up the hall, she told him a man was standing outside the door. Just standing there, looking in. My father, having grabbed his own glasses, opened the door and found … the lilacs. We are, all of us, blind as bats. Thank goodness the boys don’t share my genes; they might have a chance.

I used to sit there in the early summer and take in the smell until my allergies drove me indoors. I’m not much for strong floral scents as a rule – I don’t wear perfume and use unscented soap – but lilacs have always been an exception.

We left that house when my father died. Nearly a decade later, when I married and moved to the farmhouse, there was a lilac bush. I wished aloud that I had a cutting from my mother’s lilacs at the old house. Well, my mother-in-law said, I got that cutting from your Aunt Roberta. I’m pretty sure your mom did, too. Probably it’s the same plant. 

We built a house and moved up the lane. This time a cutting came with us. It started small and has grown to the height of the windows. We’ve been sleeping with the windows open in the heat, and the scent of lilacs is always in the air.

I don’t know if I remember all of this exactly the way it happened. I don’t know if my mother-in-law remembered it exactly, either. Memories grow hazy and eyewitnesses are unreliable. It’s a nice story. I can’t swear that it’s true.

But it’s true enough for me.

So this spring, as I drift off to sleep, the last thing I know is the scent of my mother’s lilacs. And it is the first thing I know when I wake.