Sunday, November 24, 2013

Carrying the Women

Daffodils and Tulips
My whole life I have carried the women of my family in clay pots.  When the first of us came to America from Holland, she carried the tulips of her family, the narcissus of Christmas and the daffodils of spring.  To me, the daffodils have always signified hope.  Hannah waited until her Scottish husband brought her home to the house by the sea in North Carolina, and began to plant, hiding the bulbs behind the house so the sea winds could not tear at them and we could enjoy them if we ate outside.  As a child I imagined her long fingers gently splitting the bulbs, and replanting them so that the colors were present to get us through the winters. 
Every daughter was taught to carefully place chicken wire over the bulbs in October and November so the squirrels would not dip their little paws into the ground and gobble up the nutty goodness of tradition.  We were shown how to coerce the bulbs into throwing forth a green shoot, then another, then to sit back and await the gloriousness of flower in the cold, then warm sun.  These same flowers had bloomed every year for a very long time.  I don’t know how many generations before Hannah, and at least eight after her.  I don’t know the names of all my female ancestors, but I do know Hannah’s
            When the fury of Hurricane Hugo shook our tiny island, my grandmother knew in her bones that this was the storm that would rend our family to shores away.  She was like that.  Before she packed the china and crystal, she dug up bulbs and replanted them in terracotta pots, which she then distributed to all the women in our family for safekeeping.  I was in California going to graduate school, and got a box in the mail.  When I talked to Nana, she told me what she had done, and why.  She was right.  Hugo tore apart the house, the land and the shore my family had known since Hannah.  I cried for poor Hannah’s house, my Nana who died that next winter, and resolutely vowed to make sure that the women in my family always had a home.
            This year, as I work the earth, still in California, I think of my mother, dead just two months.  My tears warm the bulbs, coaxing them to bloom, so I can see my mother’s smile once again. I miss her terribly, and suddenly understand about hurricanes and tradition.  I think about what it must have taken for Hannah to arrive in a new country with nothing but remnants of the earth in her pockets, trying to weather the storm life had thrown her, just as I too am trusting the earth to show me hope.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Open letter to those who don’t know what to say:

Dear you:
My mother died.  The most important, essential and primal person in my life has died.  She is not coming back, and this private silent grief is not something that can be understood unless you, too, are part of the Adult Orphan Club.  Don’t ask me how I am:  I’m horrible, and it is ridiculous to expect a different answer.  Many of you have not said anything, acted as if nothing happened, handled it badly, or acted as if I should be better now.  Let me let you in on my truth:  I will never be better and I am shaky all the time.

So if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything:  instead hug me when you see me.  Whisper “I am so sorry” in my ear.  Grasp my hand, leave cookies on my porch, send me flowers, a card, or a text checking in. Come over and help me paint new color on my walls, mulch the garden, sit quietly with me over tea, and most importantly, let me cry if I suddenly need to.  Don’t try to comfort me.  You can’t.  If I talk about her, listen.  Ask about her occasionally, but don’t be upset if I have tears running down my face as I tell you. Mostly, understand when I don’t want to talk, or be around people, even you, at least for now.

In short, there are a lot of ways to tell me that you love me, without having to uncomfortably address my mother’s death.  Say it any way you know how. Trust me, I can hear you.  I will be listening.  But don’t do nothing.

And when I get to where I can emerge, be patient with me. On the day I get married, tell me she would be proud.  When I publish my first book, know that I will set one aside for her, even though it will never be read.  Maybe one day I will have a whole shelf of books that she will never read, yet there they will be.  Daffodils and narcissus will bloom every year and every year I will tell you they are her favorites, and the story of the terra cotta pots.  Nod as if you have never heard me say that before.  I will show you the picture of her on her trike when she was four.  Admire it as if you have never seen it before.  Tell me she was beautiful.

Because she was.