Thursday, November 28, 2013

Memory in Three Parts

November 30, 2002. 9AM

Saturday morning in Rehoboth. I have done the breakfast dishes at Mom's sink, looking out at the end of Silver Lake that abuts the property, a view that Mom loves. It is just cereal bowls and coffee cups and little plates for the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that Mom bought and thought we would all eat together this morning after Black Friday. My brother, Harvey, teased me about the orange icing but has eaten two anyway. This is Mom's sink, I think. It will always be her sink. And suddenly I need to be outside, watching the ducks, walking where Mom loved to walk.

It is bitterly cold outside and everyone else in the house is still getting themselves ready for the hospital vigil. Dad has left early. I walk to Silver Lake, down to the ancient wooden bench that once sat in Pop Pop's garage on Washington Street and which Nanny threatened to have hauled to the dump on a weekly basis. It did make it there once, I recall, but PopPop turned around and retrieved it. Now the plain bench, showing at least three different layers of paint, sits at the edge of the lake, a place for Mom to rest her bad hips while she watches the ducks. It has always been Dad's dream to have a house on Silver Lake and while Harvey and I are astounded at the speed in which they sold the family house in Swarthmore and ran away from home, I am glad they had these few years in Rehoboth, within the sound of the ocean's lapping waves and the whisper of pine trees. They have been contented here. Mom has her ducks to feed and worry about, especially in the spring when the turtles eat the newborn ducklings and drive the duck families away. Sitting here on the bench that is part of Pop Pop's past, I watch the ducks swim, recalling the night long ago when Mom stayed up all night and watched a baby bird cling to the nest his mother had plastered to our attic window. She worried all night, as the wind blew and the rain fell, that the baby bird would tumble from his nest and die. But God watched over Mom's little bird and in the morning it was still safe in its nest.

I talk to the ducks for a few minutes, telling them about Mom. She won't be coming down to feed them anymore, but Dad will make sure they are supplied with bread. Then I heave myself off the bench--it is really too cold to be sitting--and walk back up the hill, the dry leaves crunching under my sneakers. Tears freeze to my face by now but I cannot go back inside. Not yet. I continue up the driveway, up to School Lane, down the old high school where Harvey and I rode our bicycles over the paths and around the school. A soft, summer wind brushes past my face and I can hear the sounds of children calling to each other. "Linda! Watch me! Can you do this?" and the resounding laughter. There are the tennis courts where we brought our badminton rackets. There are the swings and the tower where we played weather station. Then, around the corner, past the condominiums that were not here thirty years ago, through the stand of pines and picnic tables where students lucky enough to live at the beach eat their lunches outside, to the bridge across Silver Lake.

The bridge, too, has changed, from roughly hewn planks of wood my mother used to fear for us to ride across to a sturdy structure with rails. The old bridge would hold only one bike at a time, steered carefully down the narrow and rail-less planks. We would hold our breaths as we crossed it, Harvey and I, not really fearing the splash into the water--all of three feet deep--but knowing Mom would panic if we came home drenched. Mom never liked bridges and would drive miles out of her way to avoid one.

In recent years, Dad has convinced Mom of the safety of this bridge. Almost every night, they walk across it, hand in hand, stopping in the middle to admire the lake and the ducks and their own good fortune at being together after so many years.

Now, Dad will walk it alone.

Across the bridge is a small park that was a golf course when we were young. Balls would sometimes sail across the narrow expanse of water and we would collect them in our bike baskets, bringing them back to the house on Washington Street to be used in our own miniature golf courses, made with spare wood from Pop Pop's garage. Along the pathway from the bridge are two stone benches, one in memory of Nanny, one for PopPop. Dad says he often sits here to talk to his parents, although he has not yet come to tell them about Mom. I cross the bridge now, stopping at each bench to caress it and read the name engraved on each stone. Elva M. Waltersdorf. Harvey R. Waltersdorf. I tell them what Dad has not been able to, that Mom will shortly be joining them in Heaven. 

Back across the bridge. Up the path. Around the school, memories of my summer childhood calling out to  me. All of them at the house will be ready now to return to the waiting room outside the ICU.

Let me be strong enough, I pray. Let me be strong enough for Dad and Harvey and Mom today.

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