Life, Death and Healing.
Small and frail, she sat slumped against the faded white wood, but a dark shadow against the rising sun gleaming through the garage entrance. Telltale cobwebs intricately woven beneath the seat, some time had passed since the chair’s last use. Her toe ever so softly pushed against the ground. The chair began to rock. Elbow propped on armrest and forehead heavy in her hand, she quietly gave into the sway.
She rocked, and watched, rocked and watched and rocked and watched some more. Dust and debris danced in a circle of Autumn light around her daughter’s head. Almost angelic, she thought.
The daughter paused, hands perched on hips and curtly huffed, “When was the last time this garage was cleaned?” Her eyebrows raised as she stiffly fanned her hand back and forth across her face, as to swat an invisible fly. The glowing particle halo around the daughter’s head suddenly dissipated.
ALMOST angelic, she thought. Almost. Her head bobbed heavier in her hand now. The mother replied thinking, “Well, let’s see. Hum…some time before he got sick. So… a few years maybe? Yes, a few years.”
“Well, it’s about time then!” the daughter blurted, let out a sigh and reached for the push broom.
The chair continued to tilt to and fro. She fell into a rhythm as she watched a younger version of herself move boxes, half-filled paint cans, well-worn garden implements, parts-to-this and parts-to-that, pieces of wood, rusty chains, power tools, well-read gadget manuals, pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks, cans of nuts, bolts and screws. HIS things, she thought. The ache in her chest grew larger.
Her daughter had wanted to clean the garage earlier in the year, many times.
And many times she said, “No”. She just wasn’t ready.
What made today different? she asked herself, The cool fall weather? The approaching holiday season? My daughter’s persistent nagging? Am I even ready?
Two hours in and feeling somewhat accomplished, the daughter swept a mass of dirt and leaves towards the garage entrance. The sun had risen past the eaves now and she could clearly see her mother’s tiny face, deeply etched with sorrow. The daughter gasped a shallow breath and felt her own chest tighten. She stood still, but a flicker. She knew if she gave way to that stillness, her own grief and sorrow would consume her. So, she kept moving. Constantly moving.
Looking at the large pile at the base of the weathered rocking chair, the daughter stood tall, firmly grasped the handle of the push broom and matter-of-factly stated, “Garbage bags. We’re going to need some very large, strong garbage bags. There’s a lot of junk here.”
The old chair creaked to a stop. The daughter buzzed on, like a bee in a jar. The mother slowly raised her forehead from her hand and suddenly, saw him. Khaki pants, flannel shirt, one foot propped on a five gallon paint bucket. He thumbed through the generator manual preparing for the first winter in their new home. Smoked curled from the glowing Pall Mall pinched between the corner of his lips. He studied the pages with a slight squint, his wavy black hair neatly coiffed in a side-swept military pompadour. A smile gently crept across her lips.
That’s my man, she thought, as she let out a long sigh. What a good looking man.
“Hazardous waste. Hazardous waste, Mom!” the daughter continued as she waved her hand in front of her mother’s face. “I’ll have to call the landfill and find out how to dispose of all this hazardous waste,” as she peered one-eyed into a can of old motor oil.
Setting the can down, the daughter raised her palms to the ceiling in an over exaggerated shrug, then quickly released. Her hands dropped heavy to her sides, slapping against her thighs like freshly caught brim on hot summer pavement. Grabbing the broom in an awkward waltz, she spun around and kept moving. Always moving.
“Hazardous waste, yes.” the mother replied faintly, as she returned her forehead to her hand and pushed the rocker back in motion.
Satisfied with the progress on the floor, the daughter moved toward an old wooden dresser beneath the window on the back wall. She pulled the small left top drawer free and sat it atop the dusty dresser. It was heavy, even in her strong hands. She began to sort through the contents, when she felt her mother’s presence behind her.
Having vacated the sanctuary of the chair, the mother now stood in close proximity to the daughter as they both peered into the drawer. The daughter inched back, expanding the space between them. There had always been space between them. Always.
Raising her frail arm, the mother pointed, “That was your grandmother’s dresser.” She paused then continued, “Your Dad’s mom.” She lightly ran her tiny fingers across the top, leaving four small snail lines in the dust. Gone now, she thought. Staring momentarily at the daughter’s profile, this is what we leave behind.
The daughter lifted a small screwdriver from within the drawer. “Dovetail construction,” she said as she tapped the Phillips-tip on the box. “Very old. Antique.”
The daughter again peered into the drawer. It was completely unorganized. A few tools, mostly rusty nails, nuts, bolts, pens, pencils. “Junk,” she thought to herself. She hastily removed what she considered useful. A Craftsman Phillips-head screwdriver, pair of badly scuffed DeWalt safety glasses, a metal file and a Stanley 12 inch adjustable wrench.
The daughter held the partially empty drawer in her hands, “Mom, hold the bag open,” she instructed her mother. Reluctantly, her mother pulled apart the dark plastic. Stepping closer, the daughter angled the drawer steeper toward the mouth of the bag, it’s contents clattering to one corner of the box.
“Wait!” the mother said. Her strong voice caught the daughter off guard. The bag dropped to the garage floor. The daughter awkwardly froze, drawer tilted in hands. Time stood still. Her mother slowly reached inside the box and removed a small black notebook. With hands shaking, she pulled back the cover. The daughter stood quietly waiting. Charles W. Nodine Sr. MCPO Navy, they silently read, in unison.
The mother guardedly carried the little notebook back to the safety of the chair. Her heart swelled within her chest as she began to read. The chair started to rock, as if, on its own. The daughter softly followed, unfolding a lawn chair and placing it an adequate distance from her mother. Still holding the drawer, the daughter placed it on her lap. They sat silently, the mother tracing the hand written lines of the tiny book with her slender fingers.
The daughter sat still, both hands wrapped around the edges of the drawer in her lap. She stared intently at her mother’s face. She felt her clenched jaw and tense body begin to relax. Her shoulders dropped. Blood rushed into her fingers as she released the wooden box she clutched ever so tightly. She sat. Very Still. She was never still.
After a rather long moment, the daughter extended her arm, reaching across the distance for her mother. Too far, she thought. She rose a bit from the her chair and slid a littler closer. Trying again, she extended her arm. Not close enough. She slid the chair a tad closer, placing her hand on her mother’s shoulder. The daughter was close enough now to see tears pooling in her mother’s lower lids.
Closing the little address book, the mother held it to her heart, “I miss him so much,” she cried.
The tears welled-up, over flowed and cascaded down the mother’s timeworn face. The daughter lifted her chair, closing the distance between them. Her entire arm, now around her mother’s fragile shoulders, both slightly tensed. This was not natural for either. The distance was natural. The distance was comfortable. The distance was safe.
She held her mother in both arms now. The daughter’s heart grew heavy, as she felt her mother collapse into her. Her arms tightened, pulling her mother closer, her small frame felt brittle against her body. She feared, she might break.
She had never considered her mother fragile, ever. Her mother was strong, capable, invincible. Not needy. But today, her mother was simply human. Real. She had never seen her mother this way. The daughter instinctively wanted to withdraw, like so many times before, but stayed.