at the front corner of my growing-up yard on long island was a forsythia bush. and many years, at the march of my birthday, i remember having my picture taken there. home. spring. there are few things that make me think of Home like forsythia does.
except for maybe the voice of my beloved daughter on the phone. she is forsythia for me. for just moments or for an extended conversation or – if i am fortunate – in person together, the sound of her voice, her zeal, is Home.
and except for watching the way my beloved son immerses himself in his music. his hands – now all-grown-up man-hands – moving dials and sliders, his voice and body dancing, his explanations – it’s forsythia for me. Home.
and except for the look across the room from david – the moment he touches his hand to his chest while in his gaze – forsythia. Home.
and dogga – at the door with his angel-babycat greeting me – thrilled, once again, to see us. forsythia. Home.
and the love and care and concern that are abundant in our lives – our family, our friends. forsythia. Home.
and the work we have chosen to do – create – music, paintings, many-many words, cartoons. forsythia. Home.
we aren’t really “double” people. but we are let’s-have-a-glass-of-wine people. and, at the end of the day, these days, it sometimes seems like a lovely time to escape a tiny bit and sip a glass of wine.
our happy-hour-snack-time started during covid. isolated from others, we hung lots of white twinkling happy lights, surrounded ourselves in our sunroom with succulents and growing-things-every-one-of-which-we-named, planted ourselves at an old vintage table in front of the window, turned on a little music, and sipped wine. dogdog at our feet, we’d munch on chips and hummus or crackers and aged cheddar. the end-of-day ritual stuck and now even dogdog anticipates our sit-down, watching us for cues and ready to be with us wherever the happy hour takes us: sunroom, patio, deck, kitchen or in littlebabyscion on the hottest of days.
for the longest time, and then longer still, we sipped our wine out of jelly jars. smuckers simply fruit jars, to be specific. i even considered contacting smuckers – at the time with a base in ripon, wisconsin – to purchase enough jelly jars for everyone at our wedding to get one for their wine toast. because people are generally not as thready as i am, i figured they could move on from wine-glass-use and repurpose the jars for small bundles of wildflowers or as tealight candle holders out in the wind. momentarily, i thought smuckers might want to get in on sponsoring a couple of artists dedicated to their jelly jars.
make it a double, our son’s bar mat read. celebrating his new condo – without the benefit of all his glass and kitchenware moved in – we poured bubbly into plastic cups and toasted. in the midst of the city, we walked to pick up thai food and a bottle of wine. though we are not make-it-a-double people in the way of cocktails, we are definitely make-it-a-double in the way of making memories and i, like most moms i suppose, wrap myself in cherished doubles-triples-innumerable memories with my children.
her card read, “age and glasses of wine should never be counted.” i laughed as i opened it. time is flying by. it’s short.
we no longer use jelly jars for our wine. we decided, instead, to use the good wine glasses. instead of worrying whether the riedels or the family passed-down-crystal might break, we use them, enjoying the wine in them and the remembrance of them as treasured gifts. a double.
now i think that the apothic people should sponsor us.
that babycat would be 14 today. it’s an unofficial birthday because he just showed up and no one was there to tell us all about his birth, about the litter of kittens he was from, about his momma or his papa. february 28 was the day chosen for him and we celebrated it – and him – each year.
it’s been almost two years since he became an angel-cat. and, in the way that our sweet pets profoundly impact us, we miss him every day. our babycat had a big presence in our home and lives. he still does.
i just read an article about love written by neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo in which she reminded the reader that it indeed is “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”. all love. including our amazing animals, i’d insist.
though his own life was not nearly as long as i wished it to be, babycat saved mine. his tiny heart in the universe changed me.
there is nothing, weather-wise, that dogdog likes better than snow. he is invigorated by it. he’s not particularly fond of rain and he is definitely not a heat-wave dog. but snow is a different story entirely. when asked, “what’s keeping you in wisconsin? why wouldn’t you want to move to florida?” i have to answer, “the dog doesn’t want to live in a hot clime.” period. i mean, really – every summer – he suffers (cue up maria portakalos in mybig fat greek wedding – “she suffers” as i cannot write the word without hearing her voice.)
as i write this, dogga is at the end of the bed, curled up on the quilt, sleeping. he’ll be ten this year and that is astounding to us. he is slowing down a bit, sometimes acting like an older dog. but there is nothing that makes him seem younger than a good snowfall. running out, he eats the snow off the deck, licking it – like a sensational ice cream cone – as he goes. we look out the window to let him back in and there he is, curled up in the snow, covered in giant flakes, happy as a clam. snow is his gig. it floats his boat. it’s his cup of tea. it makes him happy, gives him the energy of a puppy, it’s his thing.
i wonder if we are as wise as this. our snowdog is not thinking about his reaction to snow. he’s not analyzing it or weighing its costs v benefits. dogga is not wondering if it will last or when the snow will melt, thereby rendering him snowless and less blissful. he is not asking when it might snow again, banking on the next time, forgoing some of the joy of this time. he is just out there, laying in it – full-out, napping, accumulating snowflakes like seconds of ecstasy. he’s fully immersed in something he loves, paying no mind to the rains of spring or the heat of the summer, unconcerned about the turn of the seasons. he is simply in snow and he is happy.
tucked in my mind’s eye, along with sugar plum fairies and gingerbread houses, twinkling lights and sleigh bells and tiny trees, are matching red buffalo plaid pjs.
old navy made it happen.
for a few days now we have worn our matching red buffalo plaid pj pants. flannel and cozy, we knew better than to purchase long flannel pjs for our kiddos. old navy had already thought this out – they also had flannel red buffalo plaid pj boxers. score! we bought them and wrapped them into stockings. we have no idea if they will wear them or not, but my momma-heart knows we all have them – match-the-family pjs – and just the knowledge makes me happy.
the other day – on christmas evening – they made their first appearance, under a sherpa blanket on the couch watching “love actually”. since then they have appeared under a different sherpa on the couch in the sitting room, dogga curled up on the rug, reading a book together. we are reading aloud the third bestseller by raynor winn, “landlines”, a tale of two long-walkers hiking through scotland, a tale of hope and renewal and restorative juju for them. it’s descriptive and we find ourselves lost in the highlands, step after step in the rain, with them.
our new year’s eve was quiet. we ran a few errands and settled in on the couch to read, had a couple phone calls, prepared a late dinner and settled back on the couch. but our smack-dab cartoon had told a different story. though sometimes-but-not-always a straight-line-to-us-autobiographical middle-age-cartoon, it told the story on new year’s eve of two people who had to get outside and who went walking before midnight so as to be outside – along the lakefront and under the stars – at the turn of the year.
we were having trouble staying awake. it did not seem likely that we would actually see the new year arrive, sleepy eyes and all.
but then – somehow, the two of us, who are now earlier-to-bed-earlier-to-rise, got to the 11 o’clock hour. and we knew – prepare yourself for the double negative – we could not not do it.
hats and gloves and down coats and boots and the night wasn’t as cold as it seemed at 7 or 8 or even 9. the lake is a block away and we walked along it, enjoying the holiday lights still up and lit on our route. we cut in to the path that is right next to the shore and strolled slowly, watching the fireworks in the sky around us.
and, though it was cloudy and we could not see the moon or the stars, we could feel the stardust falling on us, with the promise of a new year.
surely the stuff of sugar plum fairies and twinkling lights, gingerbread and sleigh bells and red buffalo plaid flannel pjs.
i don’t know about you, but i – most definitely – talk to my dog. not just the sit, stay, come, paw sort of talk-talk. no, i am talking about laying bare my thoughts and questions and deep despairs and utter joys.
dogga usually looks as though he is paying attention; he is a really gifted eye-contact dog – better than many people i know. he doesn’t act like it’s unusual that i am divulging my innermost fears or existential ponderings. instead, he keeps eye contact and listens, his ears moving forward and back as he recognizes words…or maybe it’s because he thinks i am drawing to a close. either way, he is a really good audience and, though he never answers in words, his presence is comforting and steady and sometimes that is all i need.
i do believe, however, that somewhere deep inside of him is all the knowledge. somewhere in there he is all-knowing and all that is divine can be found in our dogs (or cats) and we are fortunate to share any tidbits of life with them.
somehow dogdog knows that steadfast and quiet are the real answers. he knows that letting me lay my head on his side is reassuring. he knows that his job is simply to love me back.
he does that without any hesitation. his gentle snoring, the rise and fall of his body breathing in sleep, his eyes closed in trust – he models how to do life. one moment at a time.
and we find the simplest answers to our hardest questions.
it’s the west wall. and every morning as the sun streams in across the room, we comment. it’s one of those images that you anticipate, that stays with you, that you miss on cloudy days – a new day captured between miniblinds. and, because we were there and so was he, we know the shadow in the bottom left window pane is a shadow of dogdog’s furry ear and the nape of his neck. his ritual – laying on the bed with us in the morning as we sip coffee and the sun works on rising.
it will soon be a year since columbus – david’s sweet dad – died. it is now just days away. i knew him for merely eight years. but he was easy to adore. he still is. i talk to him every time i get into big red, feeling his presence as i crank up country music and roll down the windows. i don’t even know if he cranked up country music and rolled down the windows, but i sense his approval and it makes me smile. he had a gentle way about him and his shadow leaves soft edges in my heart. i told david that it will get a little bit harder each day now. there is no changing that. not feeling his absence is like trying to keep an open candle lit in the wind. impossible.
the anniversary of his leaving-this-earth forces one to recognize mortality. when my big brother died, it foisted upon me an absolute sense of a lack of infinity – time goes by and the world continues on, yet there will come a time that our relationship with the world will no longer feel the same and our shadow will be a little less pronounced, a little less definitive, a little fuzzier, though no less present. when my poppo and then, three years later, my sweet momma died, i was struck by the sheer ludicrousness of how wrapped up we all get in everylittledetailofeverything. it felt like we should spend more time shadow-dancing together in the sun and less time in the actual shadows. there is no time to waste. we learn it – and forget – again and again. and again.
in the way of shadows and energy and love, we know that our dogga can feel us, despite our temporary absence from him as we travel. just like the people we love – here and not here – he is right with us.
“c’mon baby, light my fire,” the saying is the centerpiece of a beautiful frame of deep woods, reaching up and reflecting in a pond down. it was part of a moving wedding gift and we treasure it on top of our dresser.
dogdog needs little to light his fire. it would seem one of his favorite things is to “go on errands”. his little body quivers with excitement and it takes a few moments for him to stop jumping-bean-jumping before he sits on the rug for his leash and the chance to bound out the door and godirectlytothecardonotstoporcollect200dollars. he – in his weird aussie-quirk way – will only get in littlebabyscion from the rear passenger door and he jumps up and waits, with great anticipation. lit-fire and all, he will wait for a very long time to discover where it is we are going and, every time, even if it is only around the block, he looks thrilled. in nice weather he sticks his head out the window and lets the wind blow his ears, his eyes wide, his mouth open. he has no expectation. he finds his glee right there and then. he is elated.
there was a moment this weekend, a busy one working around the house and in our backyard, that we took to sit and relax at the table out back, eat too many pistachio nuts and paint rocks. my green paint pen cap exploded off and neon green paint went everywhere. we looked at each other and started laughing. a couple hours went by before we realized it might be time to warm up some leftovers. nothing like a saturday, dusk on the deck and yummy leftovers.
it just makes you realize that it’s all about framing.
lit-fires and joy.
we just need to bound into it with no expectations.
he’s the lock screen on my phone. that babycat. every morning i tell him “good morning”. every morning, still, i get a pang looking at his green eyes and the white stripe on his black-fur-face. he is sooo missed.
i made the bed the other day and found tiny white hairs scattered on the comforter. it made me wonder if he had stopped by. i know dogga misses him too, and babycat was dedicated to his dog, so maybe he did come by, just to reassure him.
these pets of ours. vital parts of our hearts, they enhance life, entertaining us, grounding us, loving us unconditionally.
as empty-nesters they are what receive our daily attention, our daily nurturing, our daily worrying. their absence is profound. though gigantic statement of love, it is a great loss felt each day when a furred member of our family is gone.
i would like to believe that babycat is somehow still around. i’d like to believe that he knows – that he’s still adored, that we pine for him, that dogdog sometimes still seems to be waiting for his return. that his life – absolutely – changed mine and, for that, i will evermore be grateful.
we were supposed to have company. it has been a rarity these last couple years to share our space with anyone, so we were really, really looking forward to it. visits with people we haven’t seen in a year, two years. coffee-sitting or wine-chatting out on the deck, slow walks along the lakefront, catching up. long-awaited.
it wasn’t to be.
just before, we had attended a small gathering – outside. we were alerted a couple days later that we were exposed to covid. guidelines are such that it was then our responsibility – which we don’t take lightly – to isolate from others so as to avoid being contagious, whether or not we were also ill. we have respected this pandemic and its resulting health guidelines from the start, so we did the only responsible thing. we cancelled our guests, two sets of them.
to say we were disappointed is to underplay the isolation of these times. we were stunned. the ever-present facebook shows people off gallivanting on vacations and cruises, at disneyworldland, at parties. and we, abiding by what had been outlined as ways to protect others, were alone. in truth, we were a little ticked.
and so, we dedicated ourselves to crossing every appendage we’d stay healthy and working on the backyard. the new fence has created a blank canvas and we wanted to re-plant and re-organize our tiny sanctuary. i began studying plants and sun and shadow and height and breadth and movement and placement.
we moved the old hostas. they were along that back fence line. it hasn’t been a good year for hostas, dan told us, and we’d have to agree. these intrepid plants, we knew, would bounceback, so we transplanted them next to barney and under the white fir pine. i wanted a few hosta for under the blue spruce, but i wanted elegans hosta, rich green not variegated, huge heart-shaped leaves, gorgeous texture that will share that space with tufting blue sedge grasses.
we went to the nursery. it’s all outside so we felt confident we were not exposing anyone and we spent a few glorious hours wandering in and out among the plants, dreaming. that’s where we fell in love with that little stand of quaking aspen. (pause for a moment…)
i took a zillion photographs, not only of grasses and plants, but of the accompanying tags of information, so that we could go home and i could research and develop a plan for the new landscaping we would be planting. i had my work cut out.
i made several trips to the nursery, asking questions and moving slowly through, glancing at my camera at the pictures i had of our backyard space, pondering. after a week – sans people – we went and picked up the first of the grasses, three switchgrasses, tall with plumes just peeking out. they would join the hardy pampas we had already purchased, hoping they would grow tall against the fence.
busying ourselves with greenery helped the sting of losing the opportunity to see loved ones, but not entirely. though grateful each day to not take ill, we felt gypped.
a few days ago we added a couple dwarf fountain grasses. their flouncy-ness is charming. we brought home a little zebra dwarf silvergrass and a purple fountain grass for contrast. after a few days of studying placement, we’ll actually dig holes, take them out of their pots and plant them. and there’s space for a small rock garden too, perfect for this thready heart.
it’s the end of the week and now more days have passed since our exposure. though we went through ten home tests – to make sure we were moving through a ridiculously long incubation period – we have mixed feelings.
we know that in cancelling our company we did the right thing, for we would not want to inadvertently infect them or anyone they would, in turn, see.
but we remain just as hungry – we are just as longing – for a bit more normal as we had been. we’ve all sacrificed much in these two plus years to protect each other. we – the two of us – have limited our restaurant-visits to less than two hands, have stayed back from concerts or festivals we wanted to attend, have masked in shops and stores, risking the dirty-look ire of others who have simply moved on. and we have not had the chance to really see many others – to laugh in our pjs together, to get in each other’s way in the kitchen, to spill out stories, interrupting and laughing.
doing the right thing is sometimes painful. especially when opportunity is few and far-between.
this weekend we’ll sit out on the deck and gaze out toward our new fence. in the early morning of the days i’ll water all the new plants, greeting them each time. and maybe, later in the day, the new grasses will catch an early evening breeze and tilt toward us, billowing. i imagine they will be thanking us for bringing them home. birds and more birds will attend to the feeders. squirrels and chipmunks will scamper, chasing each other looking for fallen seed, high-tight-roping across the yard. dogdog, a little older and more tolerant of little friends in his yard, will lay on the deck watching with us.