As a child, the grass in our backyard was a vivid shade of green, and the sky a deep blue. Our family life was like living in a colorful water globe that changed hues with each passing year. The modest brick ranch we lived in was our castle, placed inconspicuously on a dead end street in a content world. Towering bushes encircled our home like a moat, keeping us safe.
Life was big. I even looked at trees differently as a kid. I knew the feel of their bark as well as my own skin; I climbed their limbs to the highest point. So many experiences still to be had for the first time. Raised in the 50s, we were blessed with a mother who was simply a mother, and a father who labored to make family work. I never realized at that time just how successful my parents really were.
We had many gatherings at our home with grandparents and cousins, including our extroverted Uncle Al from Brooklyn, who always had a cigar dangling from the corner of his mouth, and he’d undoubtedly slip a silver dollar (a million bucks to us) into each of our pockets while no one was looking. And Aunt Mary who was always wearing some kind of crazy hat with birds and things sticking out from it, was always chasing us around the house, trying to snatch a kiss.
While a long row of us kids sat at the outside picnic table, Mom tried to talk us into eating everything on our plate, including the vegetables. It seemed like the only one listening was a king-size bumble bee which landed on the yellow squash, causing it to instantly drop dead.
“See,” we laughed. “Vegetables aren’t good for you after all!”
I idolized my big brother, who insisted to his friends that they let me, his tomboy sister, join in on games of tackle football. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was proud of the way I zig-zagged between the players, fast as a little bug. And I revered our older sister, too, so much more sophisticated and smarter than the two of us, and impossible to emulate. Maybe when I grow up, I thought … if I ever want to grow up.
Our mother was an endless flow of creativity. Every pillow, curtain, tablecloth, coat, wedding dress, everything around us Mom had made, and everyone from everywhere knew mom’s reputation as “the greatest seamstress in the land.” She touched fabrics the way I touched bark on trees, and copied the best designers from the finest stores, but we foolishly envied other girls wearing store-bought clothes made of chintzy material and trim. Our entire lives, there were always loose threads on every rug in the house, and even hung from Mom, like tinsel.
One day, we all left our castle, and separated, to raise our own families, and hardly noticed our mother and father aging. The first time I noticed my father as being “old” was the day he couldn’t walk into the ocean by himself anymore, and the next day it seemed, he couldn’t walk at all. It made me think of the newspaper article we kept in our attic about the day Dad saved a girl from drowning upstate, New York. He was so proud.
Before long, our own children finished school and moved out of our house. It was our turn to be alone. When my own father left this world, Mom became despondent. I found their devotion to each other romantic. They may have had half empty pockets, but they were rich in fairy tale love.
We took Mom from her own home, and moved her in with us to our bigger, fancier house than the one we grew up in, but it wasn’t really Mom anymore, only her outer shell. Our real mom had gone away with our dad. Even though we provided her with a lovely, freshly-painted room of lavender, her glassy eyes didn’t seem to notice her favorite color. Her Singer sewing machine sat in the corner, unused; no longer threads on the floor I would have been grateful to vacuum up.
Soon after, I went back to work at an elementary school where I was surrounded by small children full of big giggles, and when I returned in the afternoon, I’d take Mom for a leisurely walk. The chilly wind blew around us, and I found myself buttoning her coat, as if she were one of the children on the playground; the one who lost her giggle.
One day, Mom was gone, too, and I realized that along with her, I not only lost the person closest to my heart, but I also lost the child within me. It occurred to me that I was no longer anyone’s child. The house seemed emptier, quieter, and I’d turn on the TV to fill the void, barraged by shows that I find offensive and ugly, certainly not made for “family.”
I was thankful for the simplicity I once knew and missed. Then one day something wonderful happened – a child was born, and my grandson filled my world again, and allowed me to see through clear eyes just how blue the sky remained, and what a wonderful world we live in after all.
Dedicated to Jagger