November 8, 2014: your Christmas cactus is in full bloom. It may be my imagination, but every year the blossoms seem to show up a little earlier. We could now call your beloved old plant a Halloween cactus. How many holidays will pass before the pink flowers open up at Easter?
You know, Mom, you’ve been gone sixteen years, and I always figured that the older I got, the less I would miss you. Actually, the opposite seems to be true. The heaviness in my throat in this moment is greater than when I wrote you last year. The reason is your great-grandson Cole. I imagine the deep gladness you would know in holding him, talking to him as I do, sitting quietly as the minutes pass, watching him in ceaseless motion. You would say the same thing as we do: “He’s so busy.”
Most Sundays we have family dinner, Mom. I’m not sure why as your son I didn’t insist on this practice years ago, but I didn’t. I’m sorry. People who say that they have no regrets in life probably aren’t looking closely enough. Anyway, after we finished eating, Cole got fussy. Had you been there and not been burdened with arthritis, you would have picked him up and walked around the house, talking to him. I can see you telling your great-grandson about this and that. The decades glow and soften in my mind: there you are, my late mother holding my beloved grandson. It’s nice to see you.
But since you aren’t here—not really—and weren’t there after dinner to occupy Cole, I did. Our first stop was your Christmas cactus. I told him a little about the plant, but before I knew it I was telling him about you. Of course, I said you would love him like crazy and other things you would expect. But as he looked on momentary peace at your plant, I told him that when his mother was a toddler, you peeled grapes for her. Peeling grapes: that’s love. “Your great-grandma would do the same for you,” I said, imagining you putting bits of the pulp into his mouth.
Next stop: the photograph of you in your wedding dress. “My gosh, Cole,” I said, “look at how beautiful your Great-Grandma Coleman was.” I was focused on you and Cole, but was also aware of somebody looking over my shoulder and saying, “Oh, yeah! She was beautiful.”
Tours with tired babies last only so long, so that was about it. Elena, Matt, and Cole packed up and headed home. Tomorrow being Sunday, we’ll go through the same ritual, and most likely I’ll use the spatula from home. No kidding, Mom, every time I pick it up, I remember you. Maybe I’ll show Cole, tell him it was yours.
I wish you could be with us. We would sit at the dining room table and look at pictures. This afternoon I was missing you, so I went upstairs and pulled out some albums. Time passed. Two photographs held me up a while: one of Elena and one of Micah. I could see Cole in both of them.
I said before you were beautiful, but I’ve become suspicious of time, reluctant to accept its authority over us, covetous of eternity. More must await us beyond this lovely, troubled land, where early we toddle on fair-skinned, sausage legs and late travel tentatively, afraid of the fall that might crack our aching bones. There must be more because you deserve to hold this child, to kiss his promise of red hair—however this can happen in the Eternal Calm and Splendor.
So, Mom, I’ll correct myself: you are beautiful. I don’t visit your grave often, with its pound or two of ash and bone the required number of feet below. Better: I exchange this earthly chronology for one I compose myself. I close my eyes. Now, you pass your hands over my children’s cheeks as you did decades ago and speak to them gently. Cole sits on your lap. You bounce him and lean forward to look at his round face. Like the rest of us, you get lost there.
As you and I sit together, I hold your hand, still the softest I’ve ever known. Since this is my time, your knuckles and joints don’t blossom with arthritis—no pain. I’m looking at your skin and veins, Mom, and kissing your hand. Your eyes are closed. You hear me say, “You live.”
I feel your love for your mom – and hers for you. The family legacy that transcends time.
Hi, Mimi. Yeah, time changes as you get older, huh? Love seems to stand outside the calendar. Peace and thanks, John
I love that phrase “love seems to stand outside the calendar”. Indeed it does, indeed.
Lovely post, John. Your mom and your family also. Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanks, Lily. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well. Lots of deep breaths and smiles. Peace, John
Yeah, just a sentimental guy! Hope all is well with you, Nancy.
Thanks, Rachel. I had a beautiful subject. John
such a wonderful, loving letter!
may she continue on in the beauty of you and your family.
Thanks, Brother. And may those you’ve loved give your days beauty outside of time. Peace, John
Had a tear myself after that lovely writing for you and me! I sure do miss my mama! There has been too much that has happened in our family since she has been gone! On the other hand, one could look at it and say “Best she wasn’t here to have had endured all of that!” I used to think that if there was a hell, one of the ways of torture would be to have to watch the horrific mistakes that our loved ones make and then be forced to see how the consequences played out! Enough of that!
So, your mom lives on inside of you and you are a wonderful part of her! I focused on her eyes as I generally do with everyone, and I would ask, do your eyes resemble hers, not knowing what your dad looked like?
The other joy I experienced, was that precious Cole in the pumpkin! Was the pumpkin warmed up? He is just looks like a such smoochable happy little guy!! Oh, how I loved all the growth and development stages….until 14 for the girl and 19 for the boy! Oh dear God!!
Yeah, basically, kindergarten through 21 . . . Oh dear God! That pumpkin: hard to imagine the little guy’s tookus in a hollowed out punkin, but I guess it was warmed to room temperature. Elena said they plunked him in the tub quick and all was well. Ha! See you tonight. J
I love telling my daughter about her grandfather and great-grandfather. One was an inveterate jokester, the other a consummate storyteller. This, in my mind, is how eternity exists – the tales and the pieces of ourselves that we pass on from our loved ones to the next generations, so that they continue to live on. It sounds like you’re doing an admirable job of that.
Hi, Michelle. Love telling stories, especially about my mom. I’ll keep all our old mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles going as long as somebody will listen. Peace, John
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You evoke the slippery slope of time beautifully! And I LOVE the tour with your grandson. A lovely read. Aloha and Mahalo, Christi
Hi, Christi. Glad you enjoyed my sentimental riff. Peace, John