When I finished my master’s, I ordered two extra copies of my thesis: one for myself, and one for my mother.  It was a hot August day in 2007 when I drove to Long Island, copy of my thesis packed in a bag in my back seat, to give to her. My thesis was 119 pages of creative nonfiction, written about my father, and my family. No sooner than I had unpacked my car and given it to her, she sat down in one of the adirondack chairs in the back yard to start reading it. It was one of the most tense moments of my life.

My thesis advisor, Jenny Spinner, had tirelessly worked with me to craft my story, helping me nip and tuck the excess wording, carefully choose what I was putting down on paper. Countless revisions and meetings in Starbucks and e-mails had all led up to this – a finished piece that I had to find the courage to share. Jenny had written an article that she gave to us in her class about the art of telling. While I had read her article over and over, and agonized over what I chose to write, I still wasn’t sure what reaction I would get.

My mother loved my thesis and was devastated by it at the same time. I remember her joking that I only write about my father, and asking if she had to be dead before I wrote about her. And I joked back that it makes good material and dad can’t get mad and yell at me about what I write.

Last weekend the man and I were on Long Island for his cousin’s communion. As always, we stayed with my mother, and on Sunday I was doing gardening with her.  It was a gorgeous day – cool but comfortable.  Across the yard, I was picking up sticks or weeds, I can’t remember now, and my mom went to put a spade into the garden to dig out some Siberian Iris for me to take home. I turned around to ask her about something she said, and as she put her foot on the spade to try to break up the roots, she fell.

Life went into slow motion. The roots were tough, and the spade didn’t go in as she thought it would, it shifted her weight and she fell. As her body torqued to the left, I saw her legs crumple under her, and her head smash with a loud crack into the corner of the garage.

I let out a blood curdling scream of “Mommy!” and ran to her. She didn’t respond right away, and then she put her hand to her head slowly, shakily.  I thought that my life was over. That she had fractured her skull, that I wouldn’t be able to get her up, that I wouldn’t remember the direct number to the town fire department. I hadn’t dialed that number since my father died 15 years earlier.

When she lowered her hand, there was no blood. There was no cut. She kept saying, “I’m fine but I just need to get up. You have to help me get up, my knees…” And she was right. She was okay. Horribly bruised, a little scraped, but okay. I was terrified. Since I lost my father at 15, I have had a sense of dread hanging over me that something horrible would happen to my mother. And living 131 miles away does not ease the fear. What if she gets into a car accident? What if she falls off the ladder while cleaning her gutters and no one hears her scream or sees her fall? What if someone breaks into the house? I talk to her on the phone nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, and whenever she doesn’t pick up the phone and then doesn’t call me back for a while, I panic.

Her head had smashed into the vinyl molding of the side door to the garage – it is still dented. Two more inches, and it would have been the brick that her head made contact with. Last weekend made me realize more fiercely than ever how very lucky that I am. Lucky to have a mother that does so much for me, lucky that she is my friend, and lucky that she is still with me. In that terrifying moment last weekend, I thought my world was going to be shattered. I am lucky.

I’m not with her today, and for that I feel tremendous guilt. The card I sent didn’t get to her yet, and is probably lost in the mail. But we talked on the phone, and next weekend I will go visit her. So the best that I can do today is put this tribute out into the world. I know she’ll read it some day.

Mom, I love you. You make my world continue spinning. I can’t imagine not having you, not being able to call you, not being able to hug you, not being able to visit you at the house I grew up in that you made so happy and safe. Happy Mother’s Day.


spring cleaning

I’ve always enjoyed the act of organizing, cleaning. There is a peace that my brain finds in my hands moving deftly to put papers in their place, stack magazines by genre, line books up neatly on their shelves by color or size. Clutter sets me on edge, makes me uncomfortable. There is a certain pride I have in having everything neatly in its place when people come to visit, and often when someone comes over I will apologize for the house being “under construction” or messy.  I guess other people take comfort in the fact that my house often looks “normal” – papers out, shoes in the hallway, jackets thrown on the back of chairs.

If renovating a house has taught me nothing, it has taught me to accept the state of the house. Combining the furniture the man and I owned with what we inherited of my German grandmother’s – Oma – has been the biggest challenge.  The man and I have always been drawn to antiques, furniture with a history. And when my uncle Dieter offered to give me everything of Oma’s, I jumped at the offer. Not surprisingly, though, the early 20th century furniture of Oma’s didn’t match the Ikea furniture of my early 20s.

Craiglist has been my best friend, and with spring cleaning in full effect, I’ve started posting some of our old furniture. Last spring I was able to sell two dining chairs and a filing cabinet, but was never able to sell our couch.  After five different revisions of the ad, trying to catch the attention of people surfing the listings for a good buy, I finally posted an ad that described what the couch really was.

Loving Couch To be Adopted by New Home – $300

Selling my loving, comfortable, huge, Ekeskog Ikea couch

This couch took care of me when I fell down an escalator and could only sleep flat on my back, held me as I cried because of a sad movie or the loss of a loved one, and seated friends and family for get togethers, gab sessions, and game nights.

My couch is no longer needed though. She has a smaller replacement and needs to find a new, loving home to go to. She is a pretty girl in good condition. The pictures don’t do her justice. Her cover is fully removable and washable (and I’ll make sure she is spic and span prior to pick up). Because of her large size, she takes up way too much room in my basement and needs to find her new home ASAP.

I really was reluctant to get rid of it. That couch had been through a lot with me. In a house full of antique beds, dressers, prints, and books, all with their own stories, my couch had its own story. And now it will have a new one.

It always strikes me as silly the things that I am sentimental about, but the spring cleaning continues. As we plan a garage sale, I’ve added soup bowls that I used as a little girl, my first set of copper bottom pots, and travel mugs that I used in high school, to the piles of artifacts of my past life that I’m parting with.

My couch was a adopted by a woman who has relocated to Pennsylvania from North Carolina to take care of her ailing parents.  She has another adopted couch that will keep mine company. She is building her own home, just as the man and I are trying to build ours. When it came to haggling over price, she offered me about $100 less than I had asked in my posting, and after a few minutes I gave it to her for $50 less than she offered. Knowing that the couch was needed made me feel better about it. And now it will have a new history.

And the spring cleaning continues.