George Booth, the New Yorker cartoonist who created a world of oddballs sharing life’s chaos with a pointy-eared bull terrier that once barked a flower to death, and sometimes with a herd of cats that shredded couches and window shades between sweet naps, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 96.
so begins the new york times obituary of a man who infused my childhood. no, he didn’t frequent the five-and-dime in our leafy little town. he didn’t populate the pews of our native church. he came in the mail. every week. and in the weeks when he graced the cover, or was tucked inside the confines of william shawn’s new yorker (known as “the holy grail for cartoonists”), you could count on tracking down my mother if you traced the vapors of her out-loud laughing to where you’d find her giddily all but hiding behind the glossy pages of the slick. she would laugh, back then and even now, in a way that made you think there was something almost-naughty about those pages, which of course made us, her troupe of five, scamper to its pages soon as she abandoned it on the stack of mail, where hours later our ad man of a dad (who never met a joke or pun he didn’t relish) would saunter on the scene and chuckle at whatever was the funny.
george booth proved to us that our mother — the very one who trained us to eat our peas and lima beans without complaint, and never tell a lie, to ne’er ignore the dinner bell, and always look both ways –– had a secret compartment full of almost-naughty humor. and if we kept close watch, we too might figure out the shortcut to some eternally redemptive funny bone.
thus, coming upon the news that mr. booth has died this week, and that his wife of 64 years had died a mere six days earlier (such tales of love and lives that end in stunning unison nearly always make me weak at the knees), i felt a thud to the heart that only certain deaths elicit.
there is a minor cast of characters in every childhood — the names that brought applause, the ones whose books most frequently recurred, the ones whose movies brought us the rare chance to blow a bedtime –– who indelibly marked our evolution, and maybe formed the foggy outlines of who we aimed to be when we grew up. or at least what attributes we might try on for size.
if i close my eyes and tick through the litany of those my mother ushered in, the ones held up in near heroic halo, it’s george booth & co., the new yorker cartoony cast; peg bracken, she of the i hate to cook cookbook; it’s doris day and julia child, all of whom made my mother giggle. it must have been the giggle that so allured. it was a merriment i must have longed for, and long for still. laughter belongs to a human register all its own, audible proof of joyful stirring deep inside. w. h. auden once observed: “among those whom i like or admire, i can find no common denominator, but among those whom i love, i can: all of them make me laugh.”
thank you, mr. booth, for bringing laughter, so much muffled laughter, to the house where i grew up.
in other news, i find myself absorbing the miracle of 70-degree november days. took me a long time — too long — to learn to freeze-frame pure joy and deep-down contentment. but now the hours of my days are as if beads threaded on a string, not unlike the rosaries i long ago learned to pray: mysteries joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous. not a bad paradigm for living. learn to live bead by bead, moment to holy saturated moment. allow each orb to shine in all its constitution, be it radiant or shadowed or somewhere in between. and the beauty of these days, when the leaves are blazing paint-pot hues –– aubergine and persimmon, pure gold and harvard crimson –– they tap me on the soft shell of my soul, and whisper: this is holy time. behold it well.
george booth would make me laugh at that. but he’s no longer here. so it’s on us to find the humor hidden in the chaos of the every day.
who comprised the minor cast of characters in your growing up years? who made your mama laugh or cry, who or what did you aspire to be when you grew up and moved away from home?
this is booth’s cartoon in the immediate wake of 9/11, when the new yorker had decided no cartoons for that issue, but george submitted this anyway; the cat covering its face with its paws, the usually animated fiddle-playing miss rittenhouse (a recurring character modeled after booth’s mother), head down, hands clasped in prayer, sadly silenced by it all.
we are definitely turning the page here at this old shingled house. the bespectacled architecture critic no longer calls me from the office at 8 at night, saying he’ll be stuck writing for a few more hours. there are no carpools to coordinate, no getting up at 5 in the morning for soccer matches in kingdom come. i’ve gotten used to the new geographies in my head, the ones that have me simultaneously keeping track of news, weather, and covid in new york city and the middlelands of ohio, the current turfs of both of our birthlings.
somehow, without notice, without even a sign posting the warning, we’ve moved into the loveliest calmest quietest chapter of our married life that ever there was. (do not think of even uttering a syllable of the R word, the one synonymous with hanging up one’s professional hat; one of us has no intention of putting away the keyboard and the other seems to have taken up full-time swimming, biking, and running across finish lines). underscoring the shift, this year we’ll be racking up plenty of lasts in the kid department: the last college drop off. last parents weekend. last winter and spring breaks. last graduation. last packing up the dorm room. last whopping tuition bill.
we are, very much so, on the final verge of true empty nesting.
it’s a mix tinged with poignancy, and a good measure of disbelief. time passes so swiftly, you suddenly realize. after years and years of thinking the routines will never be broken. poof, and they’re gone!
we’re late to this party, only because i found myself in a delivery room when others i knew were there awaiting their grandbabies, but i was there because of what felt and always will feel like i somehow squeaked through the maternity ward as the very last egg was being cleared from the deck. and, as with so much in my life, i’ve been soaking it in from every which angle, taking none of it lightly, extracting as much as i possibly could at every twist, turn, and trial along the way.
ours, these days, is a quiet life by choice. my favorite hours are nestled in books and on my knees in the garden, over coffees with people i love, and the dinners at the end of the day when we weave together the threads we’ve both followed all through the day. i know full well that every drop of it is pure blessing, a benevolence no one deserves, for life is not doled out in rewards and punishments. we just get what we get, and it’s ours to savor or squander. i’ve had more than enough hours staring into the shadowed abyss, imagining sudden endings, to perk up my relishing gears. (the bright side of being a doomsayer is that any and every happy ending is reason for rousing hallelujah. don’t mind my scrambled up wiring. seven decades in, it works for me just as it is.)
anyway, this weekend’s the last-ever parents weekend, that glorious mix of scintillating speakers and professorial panels, long strolls across a campus straight out of the picture books, and delivering a pile of groceries and pies and blankets and boots only a college kid’s idiosyncratic tastes would relish or request (who else would send a middle-of-the-night text asking for portwine spread cheese, rubber-soled boots, and someplace good to go out for dinner?). i plan to savor every sweet drop, knowing not long from now i’ll pine for the chance to make-believe i’m a kid savoring college. (as long as i don’t peek in the mirror, and wonder who in the world is the one with the locks now the color of silvery moon.)
i know, because life has taught me over and over, whole new adventures await, and none of this will ever get dull. but i’ve loved this part where you hover fairly closely over the shoulder of the kids you’ve brought into the world, and feel your heart grow by the week and the month and the year. i know, because life is already teaching me, each of their new adventures becomes vicariously mine, and therein lies a whole nother joy. but now, here i am at the precipice looking both ways. and mostly i’m grateful for this heart that finds it hard to let go….
because we’re motoring back and forth in three short days (the weekend cut short by a work trip to houston for the one more apt to be running or riding these days), i’m keeping this short, and will leave you instead with two little morsels: a peek inside the little book that landed on my stoop the other night, and a soup i plan to make on one of the autumnal days next week when the critic is chowing down on texas barbecue. slow cooking is in sync with my slow, savoring ways.
first, a peek at the Advanced Reading Copy of The Book of Nature, with a look at the cover, the table of contents, and the first page of the foreword.
Creamy Cauliflower Soup With Harissa Tomatoes By Melissa Clark, The New York Times Yield: 6 servings
INGREDIENTS 1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds), trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets (about 12 cups) Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper 1-1⁄4 teaspoons ground coriander 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 1 small bunch thyme (about 10 sprigs) 1 pound plum tomatoes, halved, seeds scooped out 2 to 4 tablespoons harissa paste 3 large bunches scallions, whites and greens thinly sliced (about 21⁄2 cups) 1 jalapeño, seeded (if desired) and coarsely chopped 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped 1-1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 tablespoon tomato paste 6 cups vegetable stock 3⁄4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for optional garnish 1 lemon
PREPARATION Step 1 Heat oven to 425 degrees and line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Step 2 In a large bowl, combine cauliflower, 1 teaspoon salt, a large pinch of black pepper, 3⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander, 3 tablespoons oil and half the thyme sprigs, tossing everything until well coated. Spread the cauliflower evenly across one of the prepared pans. Step 3 Using the same bowl (no need to wash it first), combine halved tomatoes, 1 to 2 tablespoons of harissa (depending on how spicy your harissa is; taste it first), 2 tablespoons olive oil, a large pinch of salt and the remaining thyme sprigs, and toss gently until the tomatoes are well coated. Spread tomatoes on the other baking sheet, cut-side up. Step 4 Place both sheet pans in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then stir the cauliflower but not the tomatoes. Continue to roast until cauliflower is golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes longer (35 to 40 minutes total roasting time). Transfer cauliflower pan to a rack, and discard thyme sprigs. Step 5 Using tongs, gently flip tomatoes over so their cut sides are down. Using the tongs, pinch off the tomato skins – they should slip right off – and discard. Brush 1 to 2 more tablespoons of harissa onto tomatoes and continue to roast until shriveled and condensed, about 15 to 25 minutes (35 to 45 minutes total roasting time). Step 6 While tomatoes are roasting, make the soup: In a large pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium. Add scallions (saving 1⁄4 cup scallions for serving) and jalapeño, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add another 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt, black pepper to taste, cumin and tomato paste, and cook until tomato paste darkens and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Step 7 Stir in roasted cauliflower and stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook, partly covered, over medium-low heat until all vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, you can purée it in batches in a food processor or blender.) Step 8 Transfer the roasted tomatoes into a mixing bowl and add cilantro. Using a Microplane or other fine grater, grate zest from about half the lemon into the bowl, then stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon coriander and reserved scallions. Step 9 Using a fork or spoon, break up some of the tomatoes as you combine everything. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze a little into the tomatoes, then taste and add more salt and lemon juice as needed. It should taste well seasoned and a little tangy. Step 10 To serve, squeeze in the juice from half the lemon. Taste and add salt, pepper and lemon if needed. Ladle soup into individual bowls and dollop harissa tomatoes on top; top with olive oil and more cilantro, if you like.
how do you savor the most succulent parts of your life? and do you, like me, find turning the page a bit of a tug and a pull?
it’s been getting heavier and heavier all week. my heart, that is. the boy i love—or one of ‘em anyway—is heading off again. one last time. to school, that is. we’ll be playing follow-the-leader, interstate-style, this weekend, when he pushes off with a trunk filled to the gills, and i follow not far behind with a wagon equally jammed. i’m enlisted only for my skill at hospital corners (a nurse’s way of tucking in bedsheets), and my knack for stuffing things in the teeny spaces that qualify as dorm-room closets.
all week, amid a blur of other complications, i’ve felt my heart grow heavy with tears not yet spilled. the country roads the whole way home––just me and some fine book on tape––will make for a bucolic sponge for salt-water spillage.
that boy is the best of company, that boy of the very big heart and the disposition best described as super chill, and ever animated. the boy fills this old house, and every heart in it.
so, once he’s left behind, back here at the homestead it’ll feel hollow once again till we get used to the long pauses of silence, till we get used to a room where the door isn’t sealed shut to hide the disarray inside.
a wise someone once told me that if i thought high school blurred by in a blink, i’d find college blurred in half a blink. and so it is. eight years after dropping off his big brother one last time, it’s time for the caboose to part as well. this is it: the end of tuition checks and dorm vernacular, the end of considering time in back-to-school and semester allotments.
there’s perhaps a better chance that this one will find his way back home, to call sweet chicago the place where he belongs. but till then, nine months will trickle by.
it’s the leave-taking that always bumps me up. the saying goodbye is not my strong suit. my trouble in that department dates back to when i was five and my papa got a big new job in a city far away, and every sunday night for the rest of a school year, he slid behind the wheel of his turquoise ford falcon and headed down the drive while i sat slumped on the concrete stoop there in the garage. i remember crying till my cheeks hurt. and going to bed with tummy aches. till he came home on friday nights.
nowadays i cry while spritzing the bathroom mirror, and when luring dust bunnies out from under the college kid’s bed, once he’s emptied it, once he’s faded into the faraway. then i try to find my way again, to find the joy in silence, in the slower pace with which the fridge and pantry empty, in the fewer loads of laundry. in that bathroom mirror that never splatters.
it’s come and go, all life long. and we’re wise to make the most of those blessed hyphens in between.
in the weeks ahead, i’ll be busy plotting my new cloister garden as a six-foot wall is being erected (straight through a chunk of what had been my garden, and hard up against our once-breezy screened-in summer porch) even as i type. i’m thinking of it as my monastery wall––the cedar barricade shutting out all the troubles of the world. but the thing i’ll miss most is the slant of sunlight at the twilight hour, as the great orb sinks low and the shafts of light get long and longer. it’s a golden glow that makes my summer porch seem gilded with celestial stardust.
and because the last round of page proofs got delayed till next week, i’ll fill my quiet hours with the intense concentration those pages demand. and then it’s off to the printer as i await the day the box of books lands plop on my doorstoop.
cook’s corner: here’s a truly nifty thing i bumped into this week (if meat lovers thrill to find a way to use every bit of the beast, from tongue to tail, then we who love the produce patch thrill just as mightily to find there’s more to the vine than just the fruits!). as one with a plethora of tangled vines, and one who sniffs deeply of my finger tips after plucking my daily tomato harvest, this enlightenment brings double the delight from those vines. and it’s all about the leaves…
How to Cook with Tomato Leaves
Tomato leaves contain 2-isobutlythiazole, a compound responsible for the plant’s distinctive aroma. Commercial tomato products, like ketchup, often include an isolated form of that compound to boost fresh tomato flavor.
If you have a garden full of tomatoes, though, you’ve got a great source of 2-isobutlythiazole right in your backyard. Here’s how to use tomato leaves to boost your sauce’s flavor.
1. When you harvest your tomatoes, pluck a handful of leaves from the plant.
2. Toss the leaves into the sauce and steep them for 10 minutes.
3. Remove and discard the leaves.
Taste your sauce, and you’ll find that the tomato flavor has been both heightened and made more complex and earthy.
from poet and pacifist William Stafford, found in his son Kim Stafford’s intimate portrait, Early Morning: Remembering My Father: every day Stafford would write a page in his journal, his response to what he called “the emergency of being alive.”
we are all of us deep in the emergency of our being alive…
a little bit of Buechner, in memory of the blessed man who died at 96 on monday.
a few years back, in 2016 to be precise, i counted a new collection of writings from theologian frederick buechner, with introduction by anne lamott, as one of the best books for the soul that year. his death this week made me pull that review from the shelf, and perhaps it’ll prompt you to pull a bit of buechner from your own bookshelf or that of your nearest library.
Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner
By Carl Frederick Buechner, Introduction by Anne Lamott, Frederick Buechner Center, 170 pages, $15.99
Maybe once a generation, once every few generations, someone is born with gifts literary and sacred, in equal brilliant measure. A translator, perhaps, of the highest calling. One who can at once lift our souls and our sights, by virtue of the rare alchemy of the poetic plus the profound. Therein lies the prophet. Therein lies Frederick Buechner, at 90, one of the greatest living American theologians and writers.
In these collected works, Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner — a table of contents that includes excerpts from his Harvard Divinity School lectures, The Alphabet of Grace; a searing essay on his daughter’s anorexia; a seminary commencement address on the hard truths of pastoring a flock of believers, doubters and everyday sinners — we are introduced to, or immersed in, the depth and breadth of this rare thinker’s literary and soulful gifts.
Anne Lamott, in her introduction, admits to being blown away by Buechner’s capacity “to be both plain and majestic” at once. She ranks him side-by-side C.S. Lewis, then declares, “No one has brought me closer to God than these two men.”
That alone might make you rush to pore over these pages. What I know is that this world sorely needs a prophet who reminds us to not give up our search for holiness amid the noise and hate and madness all around. Buechner, though, says it in words that work as poetry, shimmying through the cracks, burrowing deep within us, reverberating long after the page is turned. He writes: “We must learn to listen to the cock-crows and hammering and tick-tock of our lives for the holy and elusive word that is spoken to us out of their depths. It is the function of all great preaching, I think, and all great art, to sharpen our hearing precisely to that end.”
And it is that very sharpening that we find, paragraph upon paragraph, page after page, in Buechner 101.
two poems worth pressing against your heart…
Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake, up to my neck in that most precious element of all,
I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather floating on the tension of the water
at the very instant when a dragonfly, like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
hovered over it, then lit, and rested. That’s all.
I mention this in the same way that I fold the corner of a page
in certain library books, so that the next reader will know
where to look for the good parts.
The moon is full tonight an illustration for sheet music, an image in Matthew Arnold glimmering on the English Channel, or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield in one of the history plays.
It’s as full as it was in that poem by Coleridge where he carries his year-old son into the orchard behind the cottage and turns the baby’s face to the sky to see for the first time the earth’s bright companion, something amazing to make his crying seem small.
And if you wanted to follow this example, tonight would be the night to carry some tiny creature outside and introduce him to the moon.
And if your house has no child, you can always gather into your arms the sleeping infant of yourself, as I have done tonight, and carry him outdoors, all limp in his tattered blanket, making sure to steady his lolling head with the palm of your hand.
And while the wind ruffles the pear trees in the corner of the orchard and dark roses wave against a stone wall, you can turn him on your shoulder and walk in circles on the lawn drunk with the light. You can lift him up into the sky, your eyes nearly as wide as his, as the moon climbs high into the night.
listening nook: because i’ll be coursing through the countryside in my red wagon this weekend, i’m bringing my reading nook on little discs. here’s the stack assembled from the library shelves:
A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean: i once was graced to work alongside Norman’s son John, a fine fine bespectacled gent with a much quieter, more studious demeanor than many of the newsroom characters. his father’s masterwork stands as one of the great “evocations of nature’s miracles…and a probing of human mysteries.”
The Abundance, Annie Dillard: a landmark collection from the writer i consider my north star.
Five by Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald: i’m ever trying to expand and deepen my knowledge of the American canon and F. Scott deserves more of my attention.
Dear Ann, Bobbie Ann Mason: mason, like me, is a kentucky native, so i feel it my native obligation to inhale her prose and her poetic ways of unspooling a story. i read my first bobbie ann mason so long ago, and it’s been ages since, so where better to reacquaint ourselves than the rolling countryside of the heartland we both call home?
Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron: ephron makes me laugh so hard i’d best keep an eye out for rest stops along the way. en route to one parents’ weekend, we listened to Heart Burn, her tale of woe from her years married to and divorcing from none other than journalistic legend Carl Bernstein. we loved listening so much we were sort of bummed we had to stop the car in ohio, where our kid was a freshman in college, and couldn’t roll along till, say, the atlantic seaboard, where we could have gotten a few more hours of ephron under our belts….
abit more buechner, because there’s never enough:
“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . ”
and with that, this week’s edition of the chair gazette is a wrap. question of the week: how will suck the succulence out of summer’s august sweetness?
once the adrenaline died down, more fire-hydrant surge than all-out combat, once i paused my pounding on the window, realized how close i’d come to thrusting my fist right through the glass, shattering and bleeding sure to pre-empt the rescue i’d attempted, once i took a breath, my first impulse was to think maybe i’d jinxed it.
it must be my fault for letting out their secret. maybe i shouldn’t have extolled the wonders of the nest right before my eyes.
here’s what happened: mama and i were, as we’d been for weeks, co-existing peacefully, she on her side of the glass, blanketing her babies in her downy feathers, me tap-tapping away here on the word-churn machine. it was late saturday afternoon, just one short day and a half after i’d spun the tale of how mama cardinal and i were expectantly working toward our deadlines: mine, a book in the making; hers, a clutch of eggs.
she’d been on the nest 15 days and counting. i delighted at the way she punctuated our shared workspace –– seemingly out of the blue –– by belting out an abbreviated string of song, as if she’d suddenly been overcome by the jubilance of nesting. any day now, i would have heard the wee peep-peep-peeps of nestlings, seen the blur of pointy beaks thrusting skyward for an airdrop of worm.
but then, at nearly six o’clock that fateful evening, without so much as a peep of warning, in those final hours of what eliot so rightly termed “the cruellest month,” there suddenly arose from the bushes such squawking as i’ve never heard. i turned and saw furiously flapping wings — mama and papa both, each on separate branches of the ordinary evergreen that for two weeks now had been the nursery for their nest, the closest i had ever come to northern cardinal observation deck, a broodling in the works. while the two of them squawked and flapped, i noticed the third player in this late-breaking drama. it was furry, brown, and little. its stripe down the back gave it away: a chipmunk. a very hungry and extremely nasty chipmunk, if you don’t mind my editorializing. i leapt into life-guard mode, pounded hard as i could pound from my side of the glass. gave a holler to my own mother, ensconced in her armchair in the other room. as if she could help me here in dire land. at first my pounding seemed to confound the furry one, he turned down the branch, as if in exit. but then, he must have had a second thought, for up he turned, and scampered head-first into the nest. oh, dear god, such horror i’ve not witnessed. this was full-tilt assault. this was nature at its cruelest. and i stood witness. after plumbing the hollow of the nest, the hungry varmint turned and ran. i couldn’t swear to what i saw, but it would not be wrong to think i saw him clutching something in his mouth.
poor mama sat there flapping. her squawks slowing but not quieting. she circled the branch a few lonely times and then resumed her post. we both tried to catch our breath. i tried to convince myself that all was not lost, perhaps the casualty count was one and only one. and, besides, mama stood her post straight through to nightfall, never once lifting her belly from what she surely must be guarding with her life. only then, when darkness eclipsed my keeping watch, did i surrender too; turned off my desk lamp, whispered benediction, and tiptoed off, unsure of what the dark would bring.
alas, when dawn came, i threw off my blankets and hurried down the stairs. no mama. i’d thought i heard a muffled squawk not too too long after dark. i now presume the furry thing returned, finished the deed. the dastardly, dastardly deed.
and so, the nest is empty. quite literally as i have just now hauled a step ladder out the door and, clinging for dear life, i climbed and pulled back branches, and indeed there is not a sign of life. just the artistry of their construction, right down to the shiny cellophane they might have thought to employ as something of a rain guard, what with all the rainy weeks of april.
turns out, the cardinals never had more than a one in three chance at making it out of the nest. despite their predilection for deeply tucking away their vernal constructions — remnants of a summer past, a bricolage of bits, dried grasses, thread-thin sticks, that cellophane wrapper perhaps from someone’s pack of cigarettes — the northern cardinal ranks near the sorry cellar of the nesting-survival charts, a long tumble down from the ash-throated flycatcher who scores the highest chance of flying from the nest, with seven of ten baby flycatchers flying. only the lowly house sparrow (11 percent chance) and the european starling (16 percent) fare worse than the red birds, and both sparrow and starling are invaders, anyway, non-native species snuck in as unintended cargo on some north america-bound vessel.
it hurt to sit here the first few days, the silence pounding in my ear. the absence of mama’s brown and red tail feathers protruding from the tuft of evergreen in which she so adeptly hid her nest.
and then i started to consider my own empty nest, a consideration that comes, of course, as mothering day approaches. i think as much now about mothering as i ever have. though it consumes fewer hours of my focus, and fewer drives hither and yon, my fascination only deepens. i think often of how rare — how blessed — it is to know so fluently the whole makings of any life, let alone these two i love so dearly. day by day, it seems, the adventures pick up pace. the twists and turns in their narratives expand my own sense of being alive, being witness to lives unfurling each according to his own storyline. from my perch here at the old homestead, where i am reliably on watch and ever present, i follow two young men carving out paths that couldn’t be more different and yet entwine in ways that make me see the shared origins loud and clear and undeniably. the little boy who once could stare at a tv screen for interminably long times, he is carving out a path to be the very voices, the very storytellers, he once listened to. and the one who once set up an easel in the living room, encircled the room with every stuffed critter from his toy box, donned suspenders and necktie, scooped up a clutch of alphabet letters, and commenced a lecture on the fine points of S-U-M and Q, he looks toward a life in lecture halls filled with legal scholars in the making. let the record show it was snoopy who got first crack at his fledgling professorial skills.
my job here — simply loving through and through — will never ever be done. they might not need me (not so often anyway) to rouse them from their slumbers, to ferry them to the school house door, to shiver on their sidelines, but i’ve come to understand that my unique brand of loving means i’ll never find a way to lay aside aside my worries and my sometimes overly rambunctious fears. the phone calls these days are farther in between, the texts often unanswered, but my contemplations and my prayers deepen by the month. i’ve started worrying in a whole new way about this world we’re leaving to their keeping. i once held out hope that they could right our many, many wrongs. but now i wonder if we’re too far gone, this world so broken in so many places.
i look to mama bird, and her now hollowed nest. there is stunned silence out my window. no flicker of a sighting of mama now at it once again. she makes me think hard about the seasons of mothering, how some are full to bursting, and others pulse with a kind of aching, a sorrow for the hours out of reach, a longing for the more tactile days when every flinch and whimper was within our watch. her empty nest makes me think hard about the one i call my own, at once emptier and fuller than i can sometimes truly comprehend.
no wonder mothering never ever loosens its holy grip on me.
may your motherings be ever blessed, in whatever ways you love and hold those you count as your dearest rarest treasures.
Origin (from Oxford Languages): early 17th century: alteration of counterpoint, from Old French contrepointe, based on medieval Latin culcitra puncta ‘quilted mattress’ (puncta, literally meaning ‘pricked’, from the verb pungere). The change in the ending was due to association with pane in an obsolete sense ‘cloth’.
when i was little, i was oft confined to bed when i got sick. and, as i recall, my childhood was pocked with the sorts of sicknesses for which bedroom doors were closed and meals delivered by metal tray. a dinner bell rested on my mirror-topped vanity, and i jingled it if in need of gingerale on ice, or saltine crackers in wee stacks. clearly, my mother of five was practicing astute infection control lest she find herself in charge of quintuple cases of whatever was my ailment of the hour.
it was all quotidian enough—scarlet fever, chicken pox, mumps, measles, really nasty flu. i twice was sent to hospitals for IVs and a week of restitution, and so, given the spells in bed, i came to think the land of counterpane a most familiar terrain. (maybe, in part, it’s why i was drawn to being a pediatric nurse.) and, of course, i populated the contours of my bedclothes with a well-steeped storybook imagination––hills and vales and undulations, the nooks and crannies of my make-believe lilliputian chambermates: trolls and elves and sprites and sometimes an imaginary baby sister.
among the first poems i memorized was robert louis stevenson’s “the land of counterpane,” a verse i know by heart:
When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all my toys beside me lay To keep me happy all the day.
and so, this past stretch of days (now ten), once again behind closed bedroom door with trays duly delivered by the nurse in charge (now, the sweet, sweet man i married long ago), i find myself a-bed, beneath my counterpane, all my toys beside me laying. and (except for the few days when it was a bit of a challenge to catch a breath) it’s not been quite as dreadful as it might sound.
i’ve windows on three sides with golden sunlight streaming in by day; at night, i watch the twinkling lights and street lamps that punctuate the darkness as far as i can see. and the wonders of laptops and itty-bitty phones mean you can stay in touch with even the longest lost compatriots (two friends from nursing school in fact), neighbors who’ve checked in every day, my faraway best friend who has been as close as close could be, and my distant cousin whom i adore who thought to overnight me a barrel of freeze-dried apocalyptic broccoli. and, best of all, i’ve got my covid buddy––my firstborn, the one who fell first––directly across the hall. he escaped solitary confinement at midnight last night, as we’re abiding by the 10-day rule unless a negative antigen test allows early egress (which, in his case, he never got). so he and i have had long hours of crossword puzzles and conversation that might not have unfolded had we both been skittering hither and yon. it’s the younger one i miss the most, as he’s taken to steering as clear as possible of me and my omicron. (the kid’s no dummy.)
strange to think, a week ago i didn’t yet know what it was that had buckled me at the knees, and it would not be till christmas afternoon that the test result came back in red ink with exclamation mark, dare i miss the point.
the lesson of this covid tale would be as one wise doctor told me just the other day: assume you’ve got it––and stay in isolation––till proven otherwise. testing is just a mess, and misses far too many positivities till all the contagions are scattered in your wake. i fear for what’s coming in a country shut down by this latest red-ringed mutation. but i enter it now armed with mighty antibodies (or so i hope and pray). and a determined willingness to do all i can to help the next one fallen to make it through with TLC, and all the isolation tips i’ve learned along the way.**
sticking to the rules, i’ll not be sprung from my confinement till the midnight bell tolls tonight, and the year turns as well, allowing me to begin afresh the year of our Lord MMXXII.
my new year prayer is even more distilled than my christmas prayer a week ago:
dear God, let all of us have someone dear to check in on us, to bring us cups of tea, to care for us in tender ways (and even on the days when we’re not anchored in our lands of counterpane). keep us safe, dear God, and mindful of all that matters most: let us put down the weapons of words, of grudges, of cold hard shoulders. let us snap into focus to see that the path is short, is sometimes rough, and that the best way home is side by side, entwining elbows, and leaning toward the light. let us lock out the rampant toxicities (and i don’t mean the biologically viral ones), bar the doors to discourse that divides us, and strain to find our common common threads. we’re woven of the sacred, after all. it’s buried there, beneath the noise, the bombast, the sure evidence otherwise. the unfettered truth––most clearly realized on long nights when breath comes hard and fevers swirl––is this: life is swift. we’ve no escape from certain end, so let us make each day a living prayer in which we seek and find certain trace of all that’s heaven-sent, and all that hails from You, the One who fuels the light, who preaches love beyond measure and without end, and who gives us our each and every breath—even when it’s labored. blessed be that holy, holy breath, amen.
most of all, i hope and pray you’re well. and staying safe from this nasty bug that’s toppling us like tin soldiers.
fifteen years ago, on a cold and dark december dawn, i picked a name, a font, a picture, and i began to type. following the faint outlines of a dream, a vision, a sacred place where the ordinary—the quotidian—was lifted up and plumbed for universal truths and wisdoms and epiphanies. sometimes made sacramental, a transfiguration of domesticity, of the everyday, the plane where most of us live, far from fanfare, from headline, from public debate.
this old chair, pull up a chair—an invitation and a welcome—is now old enough that i nostalgically think back to the beginning, when a kindergartener was asleep upstairs. when the patterings of his pajama-bottomed feets syncopated the rhythms of this house, and when i could—and would—sweep him up in my arms, perch him on a hipbone, and bring him along, my sidekick to whatever was afoot. he’s 20 now. and he shaves.
one whole school year, this old chair (sometimes thought of as the old maple table where elbows and mugs are planted every friday morning) traveled to cambridge, our year of thinking sumptuously in the deep bookshelves and densely-packed lecture halls of harvard college, poking around in the wilds of walden pond, calling it all home sweet home from our third-floor aerie high above franklin avenue and the bells of harvard square.
two boys grew up under my close watch here; their inimitable lines and antics inscribed here. a moon walk, a lesson in the art of seeing (binoculars optional), the adventures of the long and crooked way home. and more and more…
over the years, i’ve marked deaths, and lifted up ones we dearly loved: a grandfather, grandmother, dear dear friends (mary ellen and ceci, to name two). a house, and, yes, even a beloved family cat who went by the name of turkey baby meow meow choo choo. but, too, i’ve captured birth: a niece, and a nephew who’s turning nine today.
we’ve weathered dark days—in our souls and in our one republic under God. we’ve gathered shards of light. so many, so so many.
we’ve ticked off the seasons, savoring each one for its parables, its wisdoms, and its beauties.
four books* have been birthed from here, beyond my wildest, wildest dreams. what matters is not their royalties (enough to buy a donut at the donut shop, perhaps with side of coffee) but their simple quiet existence and their placement on two particular shelves, where some day they might be pulled down, opened, read. and rememberings will come. if i’m blessed, my heart and soul will jump off the pages, and they’ll be wrapped again in my most essential murmurings. they will know, once again, how i loved them. and exactly how i made my mac ’n’ cheese.
i’ve recorded here chapter endings: my leavetaking after almost 30 years at the chicago tribune, the newspages that brought me love, joy, and lasting lessons; the leavetaking just this past year of my very own prize-winning architecture critic. high schools have been graduated from, and college, too (with another one of those now moving squarely onto the horizon). and a law school, to boot.
i’ve watch suns rise and moons illuminate the night. heard cardinals sing. and awaited the viburnum’s deliverance as it punctuates the springtime with its magnificence and its spicy perfume.
i’ve discovered saints and poets. unfurled poetries. penned ten thousand prayers. made lasting friends.
you’ve allowed me to be my truest self: quiet, shy in a way that can also be effervescent and effusive. profoundly prayerful, outside the bounds of any walled cathedral. you’ve allowed me to bring my heart’s many aches. and no one once has ever shamed me, a condition i was hard-wired to fear in my growing-up years.
most of all we’ve made this the sacred quiet gentle place we all believed in, and all built together. stories have been told, tears shed, laughter arisen. you’ve made me wiser, made me gasp, and taken my breath away with your wonders, your wisdoms, your ways with words.
for 15 years. almost old enough to drive a car…
bless you and thank you, thank you, thank you, from my old chair here at this most blessed table.
you have made these chairs a holy table. without you, this would be a hollow echo in a long-lost nook or cranny.
*a fifth book is coming, and it’ll be the first whose roots are not directly traced to here. it’s my first from-scratch book, and it’s titled: The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text, so clearly its spirit is rooted here…..
where were you in december of 2006?and how did you find the chair?
in the category keepin’-it-humble, i had a spectacular fail last friday when i was giving a zoom talk to some 300 souls, gathered for a virtual First Friday Club of Chicago lunchtime talk, and my laptop first stuttered then died, right in the middle of 50 carefully curated slides and words. some of you might know that i get spectacularly nervous before any talk (which is why i would never ever mention an upcoming talk here), and even though wings seem to carry me most times, this was a doozy. pretty much a zoom nightmare in real time. the good folks in the control room were able to re-record the part where the fail happened, and splice it to the rest. so, thanks to the wizardry of tech geniuses, you can’t quite tell anything was amiss. but i know, and i might have a hard time forgetting. it was a talk titled, In the Stillness of Winter, Stirring Assuredly Comes. it’s about half an hour, and if you want a bit of chair come to life, minus the blooper, here tis.
used to be i could fix things. when the lunch box was left at home, i could drive it to the schoolhouse door. the ladies in the office always obliged, and, knowingly nodding, got it delivered. when the mercury on the thermometer soared, or someone’s rosy red cheeks broke out in bumps, i slid open the medicine drawer, pulled out just the right fix-it concoction. when a red crayon snuck into a pocket that went into the dryer, i spent a whole afternoon plucking streaks of red wax from the tumbler. by sundown, you’d never have known.
there was nary a thing i couldn’t patch back together, couldn’t replace, couldn’t make right by the end of the day.
but then the kids on whom i fixated my fix-it powers, they grew up. and while my doctor just the other morning announced that i’d shrunk by nearly an inch, i think she might have overlooked the fact that my magical powers are no longer. they’ve expired. passed the date on the side of the label. must have let out a gasp like air escaping from tires.
now, when a kid with a heavy heart calls late in the night, all i can do is listen. and mutter a swear word or two. (lest you tsk-tsk, the truth of the matter is that i’ve somehow managed to teach my nonagenarian mother the sheer satisfaction, the gleeful release, of a short swift four-letter word. we swear in unison now, my mother and i. one of our few shared pursuits.)
most of the time — thank the holy heavens — the things that bang up the heart of someone you love aren’t necessarily life or death. sometimes it’s a stupid clerical error that mucks up the works. and triggers hard-to-swallow outcomes. leaves a kid on the sidelines. figuratively or otherwise.
more often than not — knock on wood — the things that shove us into the ditch are things from which we recover. another chance comes along. time passes. someone reminds us to laugh. the sky, one night as the sun sets, paints itself a shade of papaya.
it’s the immediate wake that’s tripping me up. it’s what comes after you hang up the phone. when you remember the old days, the days when it was your job to be the cleaner-upper, the fixer, the homegrown sorceress who kept all the goblins at bay.
you realize your heydays are over. you can’t really fly in on your broom anymore, can’t kiss the hurt, and make the sting go away.
you know — because you’ve read it in books, heard it whispered on benches at playgrounds — that it’s your job now to let your kid figure it out. employ their own fix-it powers. exercise resiliency. suffer the blow.
so you do as instructed. you stand back. feeling the lump in your throat grow bigger and bigger. wondering why your chest hurts so much.
you wish you could pick up the phone. call the college. or the boss. explain the injustice. beg for mercy, like any self-respecting grownup would do.
but then, once again, you remember there’s another self-respecting grownup these days; it’s the kid you raised to not topple, not go weak in the knees every time life throws a hook. you tried your darnedest not to over-coddle (though coddling, i’d argue, is just another name for fiercely protecting, and i’d made a vow, a heavenly vow — silly as it might seem — to protect to the death the children i bore. i once actually — naively — believed that if i loved them fiercely enough i could keep them from every last hurt. turns out, the joke was on me).
i miss the days when i could all but fling on my cape, swoop in for the rescue. slice an apple in crescents, grab a fistful of pretzels, stir chocolate in milk. snuggle close on the couch. tuck someone in bed, plant a fat wet kiss to the cheeks. make it all better again.
i wish i’d realized back then that those were the days, the sweet days, when what ailed, and what brewed was within my magical powers. and i could turn out the lights knowing that all was, indeed and in fact, better again. the monsters were chased from the room.
it’s what happens when mothers grow up. though not quite as fast nor as sturdily as their beautiful, beautiful now grown and resilient long-ago children.
our magical powers give out, quite before we’re honestly ready.
*of course i am simplifying here to make a general point, to muse on the achy part of feeling ourselves shoved from one stage to another. certainly there are times when the heavy hearts of my boys demand all i’ve got: not only my listening, but my leaping on planes, tracking down every last possible lead, and whatever else the worry or quandary or setback requires. it’s just that more often than it used to be, i’m merely the backdrop, the listening board, the human sponge for the sadness, dread, disappointment, you name it.
once upon a time, did you too expect that magical powers must be a clause in the motherly job description? did those powers fizzle over time, and what do you do with the ache when you realize your magic wand has given up the ghost?
i sometimes think it will always be stepping into the new again. it will always be let’s-see-how-this-goes. the undulations of life, a whirl of beginnings and endings and all those elevations between.
this week we packed up the joy blast who is our second miracle child, the one who’s been hovering around the dinner table for months now, patiently kindly engaging in hours-long conversation nearly every blessed night. the one who slept till nearly dusk plenty of days, and stayed up watching old films till the wee wee hours. his raccoon-like hours became a rhythm i knew. the house hummed accordingly. but he’s gone now, back at that little college on a hill in smack-dab-middle ohio, and the absence is raw still. still hurts around the edges.
and this time, there’s a new quiet at home. these will be the first new weeks without the rhythms of someone else’s work life. all these red-ringed months, the other writer in this old house got dressed for work even when work was what happened mostly up in his book-lined office across from the top of the stairs. there were deadlines and stories and headlines, too. there was chatter from the so-called newsroom, the one that had been scattered to bedrooms and nooks and crannies all across sweet chicago, wherever a scribe lived, hung his or her reporterly hat. all that has gone hushed now. not even the sound of a keyboard clackety-clacking. he had to turn in the laptop, and the long line at the apple store means you wait weeks and weeks for a board all your own.
we are a people of rhythms, me and the one who shares this old house. so i’m certain we’ll find one again.
i sometimes wonder how we got here, to this moment, so soon. sometimes look in the mirror to see if i can find the self i’ve known since she was so little, had a gap in the space between two front teeth, just enough of a space to wiggle the tip of my tongue through. the gap is long gone now, and so too plenty of other parts, lost along the way. the losses are wins some of the time. though sometimes a loss is a loss, no doubt about it. same thing with the gains. it’s subtraction and addition, all our life long.
so here we are bumbling around in an all-new quiet, a quiet like never before. as a creature of habit, of course, i’d come to count on the people we were in the everyday. and now readjusting is due. old titles are stripped, though the essence is not. it’s starting all over again and again.
good thing i’ve got typing to do, and plenty of it. i figure i’ll wriggle around inside my hours of typing while all the new rhythms appear. while i see how to fit in this new stretch of time. in the meantime, i thought i’d leave two poems here at the table, poems that put a magnifying lens to the blessings of time, of all the moments quotidian and otherwise. one is from raymond carver, you know who he is, the short story writer who happened to turn a mighty fine poem. the other is from a most blessed woman you might not have known. her name is robbie klein, and her birthday would have been yesterday, but she died a year and a half ago, “peacefully, powerfully,” as her obit inthe san francisco chronicle quite emphatically put it. her poem took my breath away when she wrote it, and i asked her back then for permission to share it, to which of course she said yes.
consider how each of these beauties concentrates our focus on the blindingly brilliant blessing of the most ordinary moments of time, and how they freeze-frame the essence, so we can’t help but see its full glory.
At Least by Raymond Carver
I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world—
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy—I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.
by Robbie Klein
The space behind the waterfall
The reverberation after a piano key is struck
The second after hanging up with one you love
The instant before the match catches fire
The trace when a cloud covers the sun
The sliver before sleep comes
The first raindrop under a tree canopy
The ebbing of the waves
The lightening of dawn
The space between notes
The bottom of the exhale
The final brushstroke
The first drop on the tongue
The grey before snow falls
The moment before his fingers touch your face
what prompts you to relish each holy hour?
*photo above is college kid’s room in rare state of clean, only because his teary-eyed mother scrubbed and scrubbed till the sting went away…..
the homecoming was delayed. the homecoming was complicated. by COVID, of course. it entailed a long drive, half across the country, nights in borrowed beds, and one in a hotel with a curious chandelier fixation. but, at long last, the station wagon, packed to the gills with the siftings of law school life that won’t be moving to the next chapter, pulled into the garage just as the sun lowered in wednesday night’s sky.
i leapt as soon as i saw the light shining through the garage window, realizing the devoted driver (the one who’d set out across the country simply to shave one airplane ride’s risk from the summer’s complicated travel equation, the one who’d driven 28 hours just to shield his firstborn from the fear of worrying if the guy with the coughing fits two seats away was spreading the dread disease), had picked up the pace on the drive through america’s flatland–ohio, indiana, the surrounds of chicago.
i wish i’d had a picture of the sight i saw next: the graduate in graduation robe, (the tassled-cap had been momentarily misplaced under the heap in the wagon’s rear spaces) with N95 mask strapped round his beard (yes, we know that beards are not optimal tonsorial fare, not in the age of the red-ringed virus), bare legs, and the crumbs of a cross-country car trip. for a pause of a moment we air hugged. but then, i surrendered. if COVID comes roaring this way, i’m going down with the rest of us. and, anyway, it seems biologically impossible to dwell in the same house and avoid rampant exposure. (COVID tests have now been taken, and we await the results, in two to four business days.)
ever since, it’s been decidedly noisier here, and far less monastically choreographed. as i type, two laptops are spread across the kitchen island, conjoined by a wire, as the old one disgorges its contents into the new one. tax returns are piled next to the laptops, leftover business best dealt with with mom and dad’s stamps. the peanut butter jar is curiously emptying, by the giant-sized spoonful. and the pile of laundry is teetering toward the basement rafters.
the most curious thing, or maybe the most complicated, is my heart. i find myself aswim in an aching as i realize just how uncommon, how far-apart-and-few-between these homecomings will be. how we’re not really his home anymore (something i certainly know intellectually–i’ve been sending packages to new haven, connecticut, for the last three years, after all, and before that, for four years, to amherst, massachusetts–but in that way where the heart is at peace with a knowing, is humming along with the whole of it, well that certainty is not yet ground into the walls of this ol’ ticker), and i’m not really ready to swallow that truth. truth is, we feel something like a way-station. a place to store old paintings for a year. a place to tuck the graduation gown into the back of the closet. a place where old stories are the ones that most vividly percolate.
and i find myself yearning–sometimes just a tad, other times with every ounce of my heart–for the old days, when night after night all four of us fell asleep under the same single roof, and every morning was a mad-dash to somewhere, with someone or something inevitably lost, left behind, or stuck in the laundry chute. wishing i’d known then–amid the full-on, high-decibel chaos–just how much and how soon i’d come to miss the whole of it.
i promise i’m savoring the sweetness of now. savoring every blessed drop of it. cooking like there’s no tomorrow (and the way the dinner plates are being piled high, there might be no food for the morrow; the fridge looks to be draining in double-time). throwing my own to-do list to the wind. we are staying up far too late, all of us curled on the couch, trading wit, witticism, and old family barbs as we catch up on netflix.
but the sense of evanescence is inevitable, undeniable. already the flights to oregon have been booked. the lease in downtown portland, soon to be signed. the summer is short. i’m catching my breath.
and, for now, i’m wrapping myself in the strands–tangled and not–of my mothersong, the one that pours from my heart’s truest, deepest stillpoint. the warbles and wobbles, the uncertain off notes, they’re all a part of its beauties. the heart, at its glorious best, is a vessel of many scales, chords, and rhythms.
and i’m finding my way, line after line.
a premise here at the chair is that truth–even when it’s messy–is what we trade in. in the ordinariness of our lives, we pay attention, we alight on illuminations. i teeter here on the brink, the edge between chapters and verse. i write to find my way, to make sense, to reach for understandings.
how do you navigate the in-betweens of your life, those stirrings that animate the not-yet-settled?
i wouldn’t wish it on anyone. but now that it’s settled into this old house, now that it’s felled the boy whose legs are almost too long to stretch across the couch, the one whose peach fuzz pokes out from under the ice-cold washcloth i lay across his brow, now that it’s given us hours and hours to spend in conversation that flows from idle to silly to whatever’s been corked inside his heart, the summer fever has its advantages.
most especially when it hits on Days 30, 29 and 28 of the countdown to college. in the undulations of fever, when the hours stretch on and the mercury rises again, we’ve burrowed deep into the gift of time spent inches away from each other.
i’ve pulled out all the ministrations he’s come to know by heart, the ones synonymous with being sick in the house where he grew up: the plastic cup filled with ice chips, doused in spoonfuls of honey; the stack of saltines for nibbling, the cold washcloth swirled through the ice-water basin that sits not far from where he lays. he knows the rhythms and sounds of being nursed back to vigor. he asks, from his sickbed, from under the washcloth, “what will i do if i get sick at college?” and i sense it’s one of only dozens of college what-ifs.
the thing about fevers is they take down the walls we wear like armor to get through the highs and lows of the days. fevers strip away the tough stuff, fevers peel away the pretense. fevers let loose what lurks deep inside.
and so these have been the tenderest days. days that wouldn’t have come if the fever hadn’t landed, hadn’t slowed the boy in his i’m-soaking-up-every-hour-with-friends tracks. most days, he’s a blur whirling in and out the front or back door, up the stairs to change from basketball in the sun to dusk at the beach. he’s quite brilliantly making the most of the signature summer, the last one of high school, the last before his tight band of brothers scatters like pool balls across the smooth green velvet that is america’s collegiate landscape.
and because my singular focus these days is soaking up my end of his equation, savoring these hours before it goes silent, before the sheets on his bed are unrumpled for weeks, before i set only two knives and two forks at the dinner table, i’m receiving the summer fever as a gift from the heavens. using the hours to press against his heart the truths i want him to seize: that he’s learned, under our tutelage, just how to fend for himself; that all these years in the crucible of our love is firm foundation for whatever comes his way; that i will always, always be only a phone call away (he actually told me this week he’s going to be calling a lot — this from the kid whose version of a long phone call is three sentences before the dial tone comes).
and, of course, that i will always make house calls.
we’ve even used these hours and days to turn back the clock, to pull from the bookshelf the books he loved as a wee little fellow. he’s curled his hot self beside me as i’ve read and turned pages, followed the antics of poor james and the most giant peach. it’s not a bad thing to take a time-out, to review in real time the idiosyncrasies of how you were loved. in sickness and in health. on good days and days that were not.
it’ll be a long time is my guess till the trusty old washcloth, the one with magical powers, gets pulled from the shelf, and lovingly draped on the very hot brow of the boy i’ve loved through it all.
and now it’s time for the fever to go, and the trusty old washcloth with it….
did you grow up with particular idiosyncrasies on the days you were sick, and someone nursed you back to raring to go?