Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On a Sunday

“O-HO!!” Dave hoots, fists clenched on arms upraised. Leaping back from his post at the ironing board, he dances tribute to the Patriots’ lead over the Rangers. In a moment he sweeps the phone from its cradle, calling his father with a smug grin, “How ‘bout those Patriots?!” he says and the two celebrate across the miles.

The sports announcers murmur in the background as Dave and his father banter, grousing and howling as plays unfold. Dave treasures the knowledge that his father is settled in his mustard yellow recliner in his Worcester apartment on Harley Drive, intent on the screen, there to receive that reflex call, there to fire back and bluster.

Dave may be ironing, but I’m still in bed, reading, the remains of breakfast, a crust of toast from Dave’s home-made cinammon bread, set aside on a blue splotchware plate. Our cats are snuggled beside me, Fuzz shamelessly angling for space and attention, Raven, imperious, gazing at me levelly with unblinking yellow eyes.

The day outside is brightening as sunshine whittles at snow lying heavy on low-hanging limbs. Shadows lengthen across the yard down to the woods edge bordered by the old stone wall. Dave beckons me to the window to see the tracks in the snow, trails speaking of the early morning search for scattered seed. The intrigue of survival is dramatically captured where the splayed imprint of a hawk’s wing puts an end to a scamper of squirrel tracks.

* * *

It is late afternoon and Dave and his brother Steve are playing music in the cellar; “Born to be Wild” thunders through the floorboards. We can feel the electric hum of the keyboard behind the guitars as the boys do their rock star thing while Casey and I sit in front of the fire running lines for Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Casey is making headbands as she responds to her cues, and Fuzz lies toasty warm against my leg.

We skip over the parts for the daughter, Emily, as our goal is to practise Casey as Mrs. Gibbs, but my eye stops at Emily’s impassioned, “Oh Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it - every, every minute?” I yearn to say, “Yes... yes, I do,” but would that be honest? It takes constant effort to be fully concious and too often I take life’s gifts for granted.

I spend these wintry Sunday afternoons happily reading, rug-hooking, or running lines, while the boys slip into their youthful skins to banter, sing and play. I love the sound of their time together - they are realizing life as they wail away in our basement.

On this particular day, I relish the cheer of the fire crackling, radiating its light and warmth. Casey, industrious in her hairband production, sits ensconced in the wingback chair next to the fire. Raven has joined us and rouses her brother from his nap with a gentle lick to the nose. She slinks about, scouting a nesting place and curls, shining ebony, in the antique wood box by the wingback.

Casey leans close to her sewing, intent as she draws the thread through a length of yellow gingham. Periodically she wraps the piece about her forehead, trying it for size. There’s a pause in the rhythms emanating from the basement. “So Glad We Made It” just ended in a resounding crash of cymbals not entirely in keeping with our peace upstairs, but the exuberance makes us smile.

Raven abandons her nest to curl up with her brother on the couch next to me. They seem to love each other as much as human siblings do. They snuggle up, Raven’s head on Fuzz’s shoulder, their sides rising and falling with each gentle intake of breath.

I have tried to freeze these precious moments, but despite my best efforts, the kids have grown and Dave and I have aged. But I am warm and content as the house grows dark. The embers in our cavernous stone fireplace glow and pulse as if alive, the embodiment of heart.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just a Memory

Ahhh - the furnace roars as it thrums to life, promising warmth in our notoriously cold house. While we have our choice of comfortable upholstered chairs, like street people, the cats and I each claim a spot on a heating vent. Raven, our black cat, stretches languorously, curling on the floor in the kitchen. Her gray-striped brother, Fuzz, snuggles against the wall in the corner behind a rocking chair. With a mug of tea in one hand and a draft of my will in the other, I opt to settle on a floor vent in the den.

It is an afternoon in early January, only 4:00 PM, but dusky. The Christmas tree seems to glow sepia, for all its bright red and green, as nostalgic as a family photograph. Outside, a snowstorm slows all motion, wrapping us in the buffer of its cocoon.

I smooth the sheets of the will over the aged oaken floorboards beside me, imagining a future gathering around a table of high polish in some lawyer’s office. I scan the opening line, “I, Eleanor Ingersoll Sylvestro…” and to my surprise, I burst into tears. This pronouncement of my name seems so formal, so final. I don’t fear death. If anything, in my image of the hereafter, my grandparents wait for me on a comfy overstuffed couch as I stagger across the threshold. They cry “Welcome home! Have a cup of tea!” as I flump down next to them, exhausted by life. But still, to think of myself as a memory?

What will my kids remember of me? Making “Happy Winter Fudge Cake” on the first snowy day? Crafting wreaths of bittersweet vines in the fall? Cuddling on their beds with a story at bedtime? Or reminding them endlessly to clean their rooms and write thank-you notes?

With so many incidents lost to memory, I wonder about the selection process that results in those that last. Of my own childhood, I remember such odd snippets as studying a dead bumblebee on a dusty window while posing for a portrait, sitting on my grandfather’s lap as he spun stories of “Dear Johnny,” and my grandmother, Byeo, buffing my nails. What holds these vignettes in my mental album while others more momentous drift away?

What will remain of me?

The shelves of my closet hold stacks and stacks of journals, the venting and blathering of forty-some years: Lea at her best and her worst. I’ve also made quilts, Santas and hooked rugs that should survive the next hundred years. While I love the idea of some future somebody saying, “Oh my great-grandmother made that,” it’s near impossible to think of myself as a hazy known-but-not-known person long past.

And I wonder about the effects of my actions, the ripples caused by every word and deed.

As I read the will, I put question marks next to term after term: “hereinbefore,” “per stirpes” and “discretionary powers.” I shake my head at the legal lingo. Would this document be rendered powerless if normal people could understand it? I hope those gathered around the conference table will be guided solicitously through these nearly incomprehensible provisions.

As I sit on my vent soothed by the warmth of the thundering furnace, the muffling caress of the snowy eve and my two purring cats, I feel more at ease with this plan for a future I won’t share. I review my questions for the lawyer and sip my tea.