|Anna Bella - Timothy - Calvin - Sophie holding baby Joe - Parker and Ruby|
Tawas, Michigan August 2012
In the lapping of the waves I hear her calling. Calling. Sweetly calling. In from the depths of the darker water, in to the softer sand, where the rhythmic repetition has ground the earth down to tiny grains, soft and supple under their small browned-butter feet. I stand on the deck of the cottage, overlooking Lake Huron, on the sunrise side, the laughter of my grandchildren floating with the Huron breeze up from the beach, through the trees, up to our summer home. I am renewed by the sound, and by the scent of sunshine and sunscreen, mixed with a faint tint of mildew from down in the dampness of the basement, and a waft of Michigan baked beans cooking in the oven. It’s a sacred, holy moment, when the spirit says to me “Be Still”, and I finally listen. I stand alone, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight casting pure radiance on my posterity, all of them down there on the beach.
They’ve assembled with a focus, having planned and gathered everything necessary for a Kid’s Olympics; plastic chairs for diving boards, Sophie’s small video game providing classic Olympic type fanfare music; and my iPhone to record it all. I have very little memory left on my iPhone, the bulk of it being taken up with that Kid’s Olympics recording. Every time I attempt to sync it to my computer and erase it from my phone that same Spirit says to me, leave it there on your phone (though I did put it on my computer for safe keeping). Timo will sweetly ask to borrow my phone every time he comes to visit. I know why. He is not playing games, as most kids would. He is scrolling through my pictures and replaying that blessed moment in time when he and his cousins are carefree and completely safe in each others’ hearts, and they are being creative and being funny and making delicious unbreakable memories with each other in a place that is sacred to our family.
Dave’s mom built her own cottage many years later, after both her parents were gone. She named it Huron Calling. She and her four sisters had grown up visiting Tawas, up north from their hometown of Saginaw MI. Grandpa Roy had, half a century before, purchased lots along that beautiful beach, south of their lovely old white family cottage. Five lots for five daughters. Helen finally built her dream cottage; a charming, crisply fresh home designed for decades of family memories for her, her kids, and her grand kids, and eventually great-grand kids. Heartbreakingly, Helen was killed in a car accident on her way home to that cottage after she had dropped us off at the airport, just a couple years after she had finished it. She never knew her great grand kids, or her youngest grandson, Ned. That was nearly twenty years ago. It was painful at first to return. We feel her there, in that place and that space. With time her presence has made us feel safe and warm and the tears are not as overwhelming as they used to be. I stood last summer on the deck looking down on my grandchildren, hearing their laughter, and whispered, “Oh Helen, you would have loved this.” And she would have.
I suspect she does, in fact.
I wonder how much they see, these women who gave birth to my husband and me. I wonder if they think of us as much as we think of them.
A few weeks ago Dave and I went over to John and Ashley’s house to drop something off. It was late and the kids were in bed. Parker came tiptoeing into the family room as we grown ups chatted.
“Park, you’re going to be so tired tomorrow. Back to bed, Buddy!”
But Park struggled to get to sleep, his little feet kept padding across the floor. Finally, he ended up in his parents’ bed. I could hear him whimper. I slipped in to find him wrapped in their down comforter.
“Hey buddy, what’s wrong?”
“I just can’t sleep. I just want to be where you and Gumpa are.”
“Do you want me to lie down with you for a minute?” I asked.
And so I lay down with my six year old grandson. I stroked his eyebrows with my thumb and fingertip; down past his temples, up under his eyes and then over again.
“I used to do this to your daddy when he was little, when he couldn’t sleep.”
“I know. My mom does it for me, too.”
We lay in the dark, my hand circling his face, our breathing the only sound.
Suddenly I felt his eyebrows tighten, and my thumb caught a drop of wetness falling from the corner of his eye. I lifted my head from the pillow and looked at him.
“What’s wrong, Buddy?”
“I just miss Gram.”
“I know. So do I.”
I kissed the stream of tears as they trickled down his soft, warm cheek.
“She’s probably looking down on us right now, thinking how much she loves us, too.” I said, in my most comforting grandmotherly voice.
“Gummy,” he replied, “there’s something people just don’t understand. They don’t know that the spirit world is right here. Just right here, on this very earth! In fact, Gram is prolly snuggling wif us right now!”
I pulled him closer to me, there in that dark room, thinking I might be able to feel my mother between us.
In just a few minutes the clock will strike midnight and I will be officially one year older. I wonder if she sees me; my mother. I wonder if she knows I’m thinking of her, writing about her, remembering her and loving the people who also remember her. I always think of my mother on my birthday. She and I both bore daughters on March 5th. My Sarah came floating down from heaven on my 22nd birthday. I feel a kind of karma-like peace in the symmetry of our situation, me straddled by two strong women, having been born of one and having given birth to the other on the cusp of spring.
This year, for the first time in my life, I will not be kissing my mother on my birthday, thanking her for giving me life. I will not feel her warm lips against mine, or hear her softly whisper, “Happy Birthday, Doll.” But if I am very still, and I let the memories rise like bubbles in cool water, I can almost hear it, somewhere deep inside, deeper than the ear. It comes from all that repetition, the sound of her voice saying she loves me. Like the lapping waves on Huron sands. Maybe it’s the memory. Or maybe it’s her, whispering through the veil, right here, on this very earth. Stroking my head and calling over and over: I love you…I love you…I love you.