We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned,so as to accept (embrace) the life that is waiting for us. Joseph Campbell
I don’t know why it felt so good, but it did. The early evening sparkled, the breeze had shifted on-shore and the air smelled like the sea, salty and slightly fish-scented.
In the morning, my siblings, our spouses and I, had finished clearing out the cottage, our childhood summer place, and our ninety-two year old mother’s home until two months ago when she moved to an assisted living facility twenty miles away. The cottage on land at the edge of the sea in coastal Maine carelessly had been slabbed together in the late fifties and ramshackle-added-on-to thirty years ago when Mom decided to make it her permanent place, and, now, was barely standing on its last legs. As my son Chris says, “I’ve always loved Grandma Annie’s house, the way the inside and the outside are one.”
And I think Grandma Annie, our mom, was ready to move on to more solid ground, to a place with twenty-four hour a day care at Dionne Commons. However that’s not why she moved two months ago. She moved because the money had run out; the reverse mortgage on the cove property used for her care these past four years had reached its limit – and now the ramshackle cottage with its garden that Mom had mulched with seaweed and crabshells had been sold to a young family. And this past weekend, we, my siblings and I, finished the process that we had started six weeks ago, clearing everything out.
We bagged up the clothes Mom no longer wanted, the kitchen items that siblings and I had not claimed as ours, the treasures we would divide among ourselves at a later date. My brothers carried out the cabinet that had seemed to be growing out of that corner by the door for all these years. We cleared it all out, the plants, the furniture, the books in the bunkhouse. My younger brother even ripped that barn-beam mantle from the brickwall behind the gas stove.
There was little of my mother left in the place. She had breathed it all in before moving. She breathed in the cove, the beach and its tides, the scraggly pine where the osprey often lands. It’s all in her, and she’s still alive, and when I hug her in her new home several miles inland, I smell the sea.
So the cottage was an empty shell at noon this past Saturday when we were getting ready to leave for lunch. And it was Auralie, my sister, who, when glancing around set her eyes on it, the small green cabinet still sitting on a shelf in the freezer closet. “Isn’t that where Daddy kept his shells?” Our father who made Dr. Seuss-type animals from the treasures he found along the shoreline, had died when I was seventeen, when Auralie was twenty-two, and it had been years since we had seen any sign of one of those whimsical creatures. I lifted the cabinet from its home in the closet, slid open the top drawer, and, sure enough, each of the compartments meant for screws and tacks and picture hangers was filled with a different type of shell: pointy snails for the tails, round yellow periwinkles for eyeballs, tiny mussel shells for the feet. Daddy’s shells from fifty years ago sat there, bright and new, and collected with our father’s very own hands.
Mom, who had poured heart and soul into this place had left. But Daddy, whose father had bought this parcel as part of a larger piece of land in 1906, Daddy who cleared the brush from the woods and built grand bonfires on the beach, who traveled far in his bright red lobsterboat bringing us back huge flat rocks for steps down to the beach, who planted the cedars and crafted the stonewall to hold the forest back from the sea, Daddy who also loved this land with heart and soul – of course, he would be the last to leave.
My nieces, young women now, who never knew my father, their grandfather, picked out a few choice specimens from the green metal drawer, a tiny sanddollar perhaps found in Sandy Cove or Sebasco Beach, the sea urchins washed in with the tides, the yellow round periwinkles that I’m sure Daddy gathered from the shell beach on Sister Point. And that’s where I, along with my husband, Cam, was heading now, in the early evening, to the point of land sticking out from Fish House Cove and the cottage, the land that Mom, years ago, had deemed forever wild, the land that was still here for us to traipse across like we did when we were kids.
I was barefoot as I clutched the small green drawer of shells, scampering as though I was ten again. Cam raised on the softness of Midwestern glacial soil gingerly followed. The salt breeze curled my hair, the ocean sparkled and Wood Island was lit up golden in the distance. I stepped from dry granite and quartz boulders onto the barnacle-covered rocks of lowtide. My feet prickled as I danced across living breathing barnacles. I flung a few mussel shells into the tidepool that was our childhood playground, then stepped off the barnacles and onto the softest carpet of seamoss, out to the very tip of the Point – to the place where the waves whoosh in and pull back out again. It was there at the very edge of the forever-wild point with my feet planted in a bed of seaweed that I did it. I picked up a handful of those pointy-tailed snails and I threw them back into the sea and they landed with a plink, plink, plink, and tiny cirles rippled out, and then with the slight breeze at my chest, I lifted up that whole drawer, faced it seaward, and with one easy thrust forward with my arms, I let them all go, watched everyone of them fly back into the sea.