Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Squirrel Has Landed

It's starting to get dark, the lamp is needed, there on my desk in my new home office. With the help of Mr. B. and Midwest Chick we were able to get all of the kitchen and basic supplies loaded up. 15 boxes in all, as well as knick knacks that mean probably only something to me, carefully wrapped and tended. I got up at 5 am and made a couple trips with all the artwork, small pieces of furniture and plants. My recliner and area rugs were moved with their help and tomorrow, just a large mower and some bigger pieces of furniture. After that, on Tuesday after work, a good clean up inside and out, and the door will shut on part of my life, even as the best parts of it remain unchanged. I bought the place from an older couple in fading health, moving into assisted living. With six kids, they'd kept the place up with repairs and such, but the landscaping and garden was overrun, it was a lot of work to get back in shape, it was a lot of work to keep looking nice. When I moved in I was more concerned about the renovations inside, so I did little more than basic maintenance. That's about all I had time for with work, travel, family, caring for my Dad after he had a stroke 3 years ago, Barkley, friends and learning to prepare for a future in a way that is more responsibility than fear. Little did I know that just a few short years latter, I would be happily selling this place, moving further out and much smaller, trying to prepare for a future that is full of change. Then, when news of a interested buyer came in a few weeks ago, I got to work pulling out more of the dead brush and ivy. But in doing so I got to really notice the beautiful plants and such they so lovingly put in when they built the place decades ago. Little things I noticed when I looked at the place, small treasures hidden underneath a few afternoons of hard work. I found some things, an old rusted lock, a penny, and some flowers and plants I didn't even know I had. Also, along the side of the house where I have a bird feeder now, I can see from the breakfast dining room the remains of a tomato vine lattice, with strings of fish line where the owner had helped to tie the vines up.

That made me pause, as my Mom and Dad always had a garden with many things, but always tomatoes. What is it about certain things in life, the simplest of things, a flower, a smell, the feel of a piece of wood or tool in your hand that evokes a place, a voice, that makes you feel like a small child walking on a path of life that got suddenly big. And like a child, you deeply sense how it makes you feel, but the words you know to explain it are so very limited, so you just sit, and look, and breathe it in. So as I sat and held that decaying lattice in my hand, I had to stop and sort my words, as memories came unbidden, color, movement shape. My Mom bending over the garden, helping my Dad weed, a young woman over whom death has already cast its shadow as surely as the apple tree shading her that day. Standing here in my flowerbed today, I can smell her perfume on the air, and the remembrance of the fluid movements of her hands in the soil is as real to me as a tide. Steady, gentle, certain. Tomatoes bring back more than a memory, but a laugh, for one time we were tasked with tending a neighbors garden while they were away and in that is a memory that will always stay with me. The neighbors had some cherry tomatoes and they just weren't coming along at all, dying on the vine, raisins looking abundant in compare. The day they were due back, Mom and Dad went to the store and bought the biggest, juiciest beefsteak tomatoes they could find and TIED them to their vines with tiny wires. When J. and L. came home they exclaimed. "Wow. . Look at our tomatoes!!!!. . . . . hey. . . these are TIED on here!", and we all joined in the laughter.

After 35 years I can still hear the sound of my childish voice joining in, feel the breeze on my face, and the the soil under my fingers, dark and rich, shaded by the apple tree that survived the big blow we had in 1962. The tree is gone now but I can still picture the branches from which my brother and I often hung upside down like little monkeys. I don't know the name of all the flowers that were in that abundant gardent that Mom grew, but I know the ones I likeed. Daffodils and Forsythias being my favourite. Yellow flowers. When I was recovering from surgery in January someone sent me a big bouquet of yellow flowers. It was more than flowers, it was recognition that all those stories I told over phone lines late at night, across continents, had meant something, I meant something. On that day long ago, as my Mom and I clear out a patch of land behind the house, a large open field, we find a patch of wild rhubarb, with strong and spiny looking leaves and thick tart stalks. I go to tear it up, thinking as many did, that it was just a huge weed, and my Mom stops me. She said that will make a wonderful treat later, my Dad's favourite, rhubarb pie.

Perhaps we had a few cherries to throw in with the fruit, and she promised to sprinkle some sugar on the crust, right as it came out of the oven, to crystallize and crackle under our tongues and offset the sheer tartness of the fruit. Rhubarb, a taste of childhood that has a magic all its own, that doesn't need words to carry it forward out of that garden of memory. The sweet taste of life in my Mom's beloved garden. Today I worked 12 hours moving the rest of my belongings to a new smaller home, sorting out what I can donate to Amvets, what I will take. Every muscle in my body hurts, the foot, still in a walking boot from the Japanese Ninja accident a couple of weeks ago, so swollen I had trouble walking on it by the end of the day. (oh, look! A place to elevate my foot right next to this pub bar). Yet with me, were not my parents, but two wonderful friends working alongside me, laughing uproariously even as we toiled, (really that's a flashlight. . . . CANOE. . . he's an astronaut you know) creating something new out of chaos. Among those things taken from the freezer and transported to the new home. Some rhubarb. Once the papers are signed and I've had time to catch up with the one person I've not had much time for this last couple of weeks, patiently supportive, I'm going to make a pie. Memories of those we love then and now, the shared laughter, the smell of a home made pie, the simplest things, yet they bring peace. Even something as simple as a pie made with love. Beautiful and strong, like the wild rhubarb itself, working its magic beneath the cold, dark soil.