Divvying Up

I’d put the trip off for a year or two, but I gritted my teeth and finally made the reservation to my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Tucson.

Point of trip: to divvy up the final remnants of my mother’s life.

Mom died in 2014 of dementia. It was a whirlwind horror. She’d hidden her disabilities behind sunny smiles and jokes and twinkly blue eyes. She had everyone fooled. It wasn’t hard for her to hide her condition since my brother and I didn’t live close by. When we found out, she was in the last stages of her disease. 2014 is best remembered for denial, then shock, and finally acceptance and a three-day road trip moving Mom to an assisted living facility in Arizona. In no time at all, she was gone. We arranged for the funeral in a state of disbelief.

So I’d put off this trip. Maybe I’m still in denial. I miss the daily phone calls and talking to the one person that was interested in every detail of my life. When the ficus tree I inherited from her and planted in my backyard died last year, I stubbornly refused to dig it up. “Give it a chance to come back,” I insisted.

But, like Mom, it didn’t.

Little pieces of her are slowly fading.

My sister-in-law had insisted my brother keep all the little knick-knacks and crystal, the random vases or bowls; the stacks of letters she and Dad exchanged when he’d been assigned overseas during his military career. She wanted to make sure I had a chance to go through it, and I’m grateful.

Initially,  when I cleaned out Mom’s house after we moved her, I had the unquenchable urge to toss everything that was left, as if in my anger at her abrupt departure I didn’t want to think about her absence; be reminded of the lack of her. In fact, I gave so much stuff to Goodwill that we had to buy her a new outfit to be buried in.

I am sad about that now.

To my relief, going through the remaining earthly trappings of her life proved easier this time. Less emotional. My brother and I shared memories reached from different perspectives; had conversations that told us a lot about each other.  As I watched him, I noticed the familiar shape of my long-deceased father’s hands, the chestnut-brown eyes so like Dad’s.  My mother’s teasing words coming out of his mouth. All so familiar.

Family. It must not be taken for granted.

We offered the remaining furniture to the grandkids, split the abundant wealth of photos and letters and whatever else we hoped to hold in our hands or hang on our walls in an effort to preserve history.

Among other things, I got my maternal grandmother’s diaries, a family Bible collection, and the jewelry I’d played dress-up with as a child. My grandmother’s diaries date from 1946. I cannot wait to dig into them. My mother saved pieces of her parents, just like my brother and I are saving pieces of her, lest we forget.

It is a sad fact, the fading of a parent’s life; but the love, the belonging, the certainty that I was wanted and planned for and undergirded with everything they could humanly give—these thoughts burn bright.

Anyway, I’m glad the divvying up is done, and all the little bits I selected will remind me of her.

And I will smile.

Spring Planting and the Scowlie Face

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Each spring, depending on where I live and for how long, I rush out and buy boatloads and buckets of flowering shrubs, impatiens, forsythia, dahlias – you name it, I buy it. Even though about one-half do not make it, every year I do it anyway. I have come to believe putting down Spring roots is as deeply entrenched an urge as nurturing children or seeking warmth. A primal and necessary urge.

I cannot pass a Lowe’s or a Home Depot without buying something. Anything! Even though the ballerina-grandma.jpglines are so long they wind around the back of the gardening department; even though there is not a cart in sight; even though impatiens have not even arrived yet,  at March’s end I experience Spring-planting-lust. I must buy something to put in the ground.

Something about putting down roots. Of course some people plant actual gardens every year, which I envy but will never, ever do.  I barely have a green thumb at all, and what I have is a very pale green just on the tippy-tip.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that the men do not seem overjoyed about all the fuss. The throngs of women that storm gardening departments are usually accompanied by their husbands, sons or significant others. None of these men wear a happy face. In fact most of them wear a scowlie face. Many of them stand resolutely beside their carts, guarding them with vigilance, arms crossed, waiting for the women to pick out whatever decorative, leafy thing they want. Others have reluctantly agreed to trot dutifully behind their women, and are nearly always at odds with them. For instance, this happened last Saturday:

pic of young girl jumpingMan: Mouth clamped shut. He lugs a cart loaded with plants, bushes plus two young children.

Woman in front of man: (Sarcastically) Thanks, Bob. Thanks a lot.

Man (Bob): What? What did I do now?

Woman: You could keep up with me. I need help loading this stuff, y’know!

Bob: Deep sigh. Silence

Woman: Thanks. Thanks a lot. Stalks away in a huff.

Bob: (Silently to himself) Why do I agree to this Every. Single. Year. He bends to pull an errant 2-year old back on the cart, and trudges after her.

Perhaps this is why the men usually park themselves and their carts placidly along the sidelines, waiting for the woman to summon them when needed. Probably a good idea that may prevent a domestic meltdown right in the middle of the begonias.

And this:

Man: Panting as he wheels cart to checkout, only to discover that the line is one-half mile long.

Woman: Smiling cheerily. “It’ll only take a few minutes. The line will go fast. You’ll see.” She turns to the gardening gloves, rose food, fertilizer pellets that line the way to checkout to spend another quick fifty bucks.

Man: “Um, haven’t we got enough?”

Woman: Spinning toward man, eyes squinting. “You never buy me ANYthing! And you are gonna deny me a little rose food? And do you want my Yelling woman IIhands to suffer? Do you? I must have gloves so I don’t kill my hands! She sniffs indignantly and continues inspecting various brands of rose food. Bayer, she told me, Bayer works best.

Man: Deep Sigh. He moves up two inches, his shoulders hunched in defeat. The people in line ignore the little spat because they are involved in one of their own. When Bob’s turn finally comes, after the tallying is done by the chirpy gardening department associate, she says, “That’ll be $1,341. 15.” He clutches his chest.

Woman: Nowhere in sight. She told him she’d wait for him in the car. Smart woman.

I’ve decided I will not drag my husband along on my Spring planting jaunts. If he wants to come, fine, but usually he does not. He is more comfortable putting the stuff in the ground. Doing man-stuff like digging the holes, toting stuff in a wheelbarrow, toting stuff out of my trunk and onto the assigned planting spot.

Works for me. So I think my Spring insight is this: the man is better at preparing and putting stuff in the ground; putting down the roots, so to speak.

makeover 5The woman, though, is more gifted at running up the tab. Men don’t necessarily need to witness  the annual Spring tab rolling along on a cart. I think it puts them in a bad mood. In extreme cases, it could case a sudden stroke.

I don’t have the heart to tell my husband that half the stuff I buy usually dies. I think that should be our little secret, don’t you, ladies?