All the great blessings of my life are present in my thoughts today. Phoebe Cary
I was a voracious reader in third grade. The Hardy Boys, The Eskimo Twins, Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. I loved them all. With book and flashlight in hand, I would crawl under my nighttime covers and I would devour the story of the moment, chapter by chapter, every delicious morsel of it. And it was with enthusiasm and not an ounce of shyness that I would share these adventures with my fellow third graders at Newell School. I didn’t want to leave an ounce of action out, and so, when it was my turn to step up in front of the group for our monthly book reports, I went for it, no holding back. I let the whole story, detail by detail, spill out in a series of “and then and then and thens”.
Sometimes you can’t help it, spilling out the details like that, when life presents to you a good story filled with a string of delicious moments, one after another, each one worth its weight in the re-telling. That’s what it was like for me last weekend. A series of “and then and then and thens”. There was never a question in my mind that, once again, I was heading back east to Maine. My ninety-three year old mother had died late Sunday night, and, although the Memorial Service was going to be held in the summer, her favorite season, I knew that I couldn’t wait. I wanted closure. I wanted to tie up lose ends. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I wanted; I just knew that I wanted to be there among family and friends in the place that I grew up, in the place that my mother grew old. And so, that’s what I did, early Thursday morning; I flew east over Ontario and New York, over the lake country of New Hampshire, and finally to the coastline of Casco Bay.
This time as I looked down at the North Atlantic, at the rugged rocks and the lighthouse of Cape Elizabeth, as the plane turned toward Portland Harbor and prepared to land, I felt a bit lost. I wondered where my mother was. I knew she wasn’t sitting in her old worn out chair at the cottage in Fish House Cove – she had moved when the apple tree began to bloom last May. I knew she wasn’t at Dionne Commons either, sitting in her wheel chair outside the door of her room waiting for me to arrive – she had left there, as well, abruptly, in the first days of the new year after a nasty fall that fractured her hip. And I knew she wasn’t in Mid-coast hospital where she had been taken by ambulance, and, now, she wasn’t even at Winship Green, the nursing home where I had sat just days earlier, leaning against her bed rubbing her forehead. I didn’t know where my mother was and I wondered what it would be like without her.
And that’s where the story becomes what I honestly can say is a good read, a lovely book report of a weekend filled with heart-opening deliciously wonderful vignettes, a series of “and then and then and thens . . .” I loved my three days in Maine. I loved the way I would turn the page and there would be yet another engrossing detail, another generous act, another person to love, another story to share. It was like that from start to finish, from cover to cover.
What could be better than finding the perfect orchids at Whole Foods in Portland, tall and exotically lush, and buying three of them as gifts of gratitude?!? What could be better than carrying these blooming wonders into the places where my mother had lived these past seven months and offering them with heart-felt appreciation, into Dionne Commons where I never got to say good-bye and thank you, where it did my heart good to hear that my mother was loved, that she is missed, and into Winship Green where she spent the last two weeks of her body-life, to breathe deeply and say a genuine, “I am so appreciative” to these nurses and aides who poured their attention and love into my mother’s care?!?
What could be better than the next “and then,” meeting my brother and his wife at his favorite restaurant and hearing his stories of our mother’s final days in her body-home?!? What could be better than sitting there with this older brother, the one who had always been oil to my vinegar, sitting there and truly listening and not feeling like oil and vinegar at all, and saying, “Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you, who live here in Maine, you who have been on the frontline with Mom for years, you who have been, in the final weeks, an amazing trooper.” What could be better than that?!? And then, there was the next, “and then”. What could be better than shoving aside any fear that my older brother might think this is a ridiculous offering and saying that I have something for him, and handing to him the third orchid, the one with the gorgeous white blossoms, and finding out that he, my big burly brother, loves orchids?!?
And there was more. There was the dinner with Muriel, and the blue-sky breezy hike at Popham Beach the next day. For ten years, Muriel lived in the house perched on the rocks next to my mother’s cottage in Fish House Cove. Muriel, a journalist, writer, musician, is a buoyant spirited friend of mine, and, it is my mother who brought us together. She loves my mother, loved her in all her feistiness. And our personal memorial service came easily as we ate our dinner, as we walked on the sand. We decided that my mother wouldn’t want it any other way – share a few of her recipes, laugh at her follies, remember the way that she became such a good listener, admire her passion, breathe in the sea air; let it all be easy. And it was easy and it was food for the soul. And there was more food for the soul. More, “and thens.” There was the lunch at North Creek Farm the next day with my cousin, Diana, and the tea with my friend Rebecca who has known my mother since she was a baby – our families have been friends for generations. There were more friends and more cards and more gift-moments in the pages of a weekend that I will never forget
And where was my mother during all of this? I’m not sure. I know she wasn’t in the ashes that now sit in two containers, one to be scattered in the sea next summer and one to be buried in her family’s plot in Massachusetts. And it’s too corny to say that she was in the wind at Popham, in the eye of the sparrow that looked right in at my cousin and I at North Creek as we ate our sandwiches by the window, in the air that surrounded by brother and I. I know she was somewhere; all weekend, I felt her presence. Images of her unhinged by time would flash through my mind. Young Mom with her head tilted back in a laugh; old Mom in her fleece jacket. And somehow she was nudging me forward, cheering me on. New possibilities began to rise for me. New pages to turn. Another round of “and then and then and thens . . .”