hello little maples
After my father died, my mother was lost. It was the first time she was alone, really alone, for 64 years. She was also alone another time, when she was just coming of age, when she boarded a ship from Germany in 1938 and stepped foot on American soil, to be taken care of by a strange family in St. Louis. She slept on the cot in their living room and waited patiently for her parents to come and get her. They did and she flourished.
The summer after my father died, she decided to get herself a new bathroom, tearing down the peeling shiny seventies wallpaper (with matte ochre seashells) and up came the mottled-egg Turkish tiles for a newer sleeker brighter place, with beautiful white ceramic subway tiles lined by tiny mossy green stones, walls painted a soft lichen green, bark-brown flooring like a forest floor and a brand new glass shower. Last she chose a large medicine chest, mirrored inside and out, where she could see how pretty she still is at 86.
photo by Alexa VachonMy mom gets dressed and puts on makeup every day, takes in her newspapers and drives her friends and sister-in-law to their appointments, food shopping and lunches at the local diner. She watches Dancing with the Stars, the Bachelorette and the Today Show. She doesn't really like to cook anymore but she loves breakfast and makes fantastic scrambled eggs.
Last week when I went to her house to do the gardening, the job my father used to do, I cut back the peonies and the first flush of roses to reveal a little path of maple seedlings. A year before he died, the city cut down two large maple trees from his front yard, the maple trees that do what large trees from our youth do best, memories of shade provided in summer, of climbing to a higher place to watch the cars pass or to swing on like a monkey, a place to sneak away, to be alone, a refuge from participating in anything in particular, where the voices from the house couldn't find me but I could find myself, amongst big green leaves and a strong tangle of branches.
Every year the trees grew and got bigger. Until they were gone.
Finding those young maples on the Friday before Fathers Day was a beautiful magic gift, like the tomato "volunteer" that grew last summer, offering so many tomatoes she didn't know what to do with them all, a message from him, we thought, that he would continue to provide for her and us kids and spouses and grandkids too, always. (This year there is some wild strawberry and more tomatoes doing the same work.)
Magical thinking or not, an ever-shifting idea of home, absolutely where the heart is.