by Joan Haskins
I received an email from my brother last week telling me he’s moving to Florida. It said something like, “time for the elephant graveyard.”
We were a family of five, fractured from the start. I was born into this family by accident, certain that I never really belonged with them. Much later I realized that none of them felt like they really belonged to one another.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Those words from Anna Karenina were my truth. I wanted to be inside one of those happy families. Those blonde, (I imagined) smiling with perfect white teeth, riding bicycles together families. The families who drank milk with their dinner as they discussed their day.
We were not blonde, and although our teeth were white enough, nobody smiled. There were no bicycles, and nobody liked milk. The discussion at dinner was apt to be more about unpaid bills that escalated into yelling and something inevitably getting knocked over on the table.
One thing we agreed on was how much we disliked winter. We lived in a part of the country where it snowed six months out of the year, and grey was the predominant color. Grey skies, grey snow, grey faces.
Every year my mother would talk about moving to Florida. And every winter, there she was, digging her car out of snowdrifts. She was fearful of falling on ice, and her boots had soles like tires.
One year my brothers took her to Florida to look at a retirement community. I was not part of the moving my mother to Florida project because she had stopped speaking to me years before. But my brother gave me the report:
She wouldn’t get out of the car.
She flew all that way, only to turn around and fly back to her own home without so much as a glance at the new place.
She never did move to Florida.
She was buried one frigid January day, the ground so frozen I wondered how they managed it. I was the only one who knew that my mother wanted to be cremated in spite of her Jewish upbringing. I didn’t mention it, because nobody asked.
And now I think of my brother moving away from the hell that is winter by Lake Erie, and I’m happy for him.
Congratulations, I wrote back. No need to keep enduring the cold and grey.
We are all gone from that city now. One brother on the other side of the world. Now one in Florida.
And me, not yet ready for the “elephant graveyard” but making mental notes about warm places I will move to one day. I’m just happy to be near my own daughter.
I think about my mother now left alone in that cold grey city.
I think about who will pull the weeds on her grave now.
She would not want me there, tending her grave, planting flowers in the spring. This I know. She refused to let me come to her death bed.
Knowing my brother, I’m sure he’s made arrangements with the cemetery to maintain her plot until he makes a trip back in summer to plant flowers.
Daisies, I’ll tell him — if he asks.