My mother has been remarking lately on how fortunate she is to be able to return to the house where she grew up – to sleep in the same bedroom she slept in as a child.
It is a remarkable thing that my grandmother and her house – which is an extension of her aesthetics and personality – are still here to be savored and enjoyed. My mother and I can have the pleasure of making her meals and re-staining the siding on her house – doing the little things for her that, at 92, she has trouble doing for herself.
The same little lake that my mother used to play in as a wild child with her brothers and sisters is still there and mom and I have taken to taking the little kayaks she inherited from a family friend out on the lake around sunset. We paddle around, exploring, disturbing ibises and other waterbirds who are unused to having their calm lake rippled by humans. Diminutive ducks and tall herons eye us warily as we sip our “sundowners” and mom’s little dog, Sprite, fits perfectly into the hold in the back of mom’s boat.
The other day, as we made the rounds, a friendly contingent greeted us from the shore. Mom went over to strike up a conversation and it turned out that they were a German family from Wurtzburg – which happens to be where my grandmother (on my dad’s side) relocated once she moved out of Bad Neustadt, where my dad grew up.
We also docked our boats near a new house, still being finished, and went to peek in the windows and check out the design of their dream home. Ah yes, it just isn’t the holidays without a little light trespassing.
For the full moon two nights ago, we decided to have a little bonfire in the back yard. Mom made my sister Erika’s famous radish crostinis and I made her recipe for bbq jackfruit and even whipped up a key lime pie from limes we picked. We invited Erika’s friend, Lara, over and toasted to my sissy with pink bubbles – her favorite beverage.
Perhaps pink bubbles are her spirit animal 🙂
After dinner we burned the “ghost of Christmas past” as my mom called it: last year’s sad little skeleton of a tree. I played some songs for them on the guitar and then Lara and mama lit a flying paper lantern from the end of the dock, in honor of Erika. We watched it soar away to the north, crossing the full moon and flying higher and higher till it was out of sight.
Then we burned this year’s Christmas tree, which mom thought was too green, but it went up in a blaze of glory that was beautiful and bright to behold.
We lit another paper lantern for my uncle Flip and my grandmother came out to the dock to watch it launch.
2011 and 2012 were hard years for my family. Especially hard on my mother and grandmother, because they each lost a child in those two years. Erika’s death was so unexpected – sudden. It was like a flash of lightening that came out of nowhere and changed everything in an instant. Strange to think that she was the same age I am now: 33.
Flip’s passing was expected, since he’d been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s for several years. But still it is hard to lose someone so young: he was only 58.
We finished the bonfire with a little more music. I played the Rainbow Connection, a song mom and I associate with Erika, and then we went in, leaving the large moon to illuminate the night without the help of our little fiery contributions. Lara headed home and mom and Mutti and I settled in for the premier of Downton Abbey.
The holiday melee of family is drawing to a close – one by one, obligations are finished and family members head back home. Dad made his way back to Arkansas on New Years Eve, after a nice daddy-daughter breakfast. Mom and I dropped him at the airport and went up to Tampa to spend the festivities with my sister and her sweet kiddos. We made food and put together puzzles and set off fireworks and toasted with champagne. It was imminently better than a bar.
The next day we all went for a walk through one of the wilderness parks near their house before the kids went off for a few days with their dad.
It has been a blessing that this year we were all together in Florida: for the last several years the kids left from before Christmas till after the New Year to be with their dad in Kentucky, but since he’s moved back to the state, we can all be together a bit more.
Soon it’ll be time for me to head back to the chilly north, but I’m getting the feeling that it’s time to start planning my next move. My beloved nephew will come for a visit in the spring, and aside from that, my reasons for staying in the city seem to be disappearing one by one. I’m ready for a change of scene, that’s for sure. And I’d thought I had an inkling of what might come next – the ghost of a plan. But turns out is was more ghost, less plan, so it’s back to the drawing board for me.
It’s a new year, full of possibilities. My heart is full of love and family and hope for a future I can’t yet see. But I have faith.
Love and miss,