I was at my father’s house yesterday, the day after Easter. On Easter Sunday the house had been full of family. My sister Kathy organized her annual Easter hunt, filled with riddles and clues that sent the six youngest children running with excitement through the house—even the two sixteen year old boys.
During the day, little bunches of family clustered in different spots around the house, talking, laughing, eating. There on the porch was my niece with her newly magenta-colored hair and my oldest son, both twenty-one, sitting with their grandpa and my sister. In the living room the sixteen year old boys sat with the their thirteen year old cousin watching TV. I was in the kitchen helping my husband make our late lunch—skewers of chicken and lamb and vegetables to be grilled.
I was washing the red, green, and yellow peppers, cutting them in half and pulling out the thick pale ribbings and the tiny seeds, and then rinsing them underneath the water. My dad came up along side me.
“Just think,” he said, “it’s almost been a year since your mom died.”
“I was just thinking about how much she liked this time of year, with all the iris and poppies starting to bloom,” I said quietly.
“And the roses. She loved the garden so much.”
I seem to notice that all this past year has been full of firsts: the first Thanksgiving without Mom. The first Christmas without Mom. This first Easter without Mom. I can’t even imagine what it felt like for my father last month on what would have been their fifty-first wedding anniversary—his first one without Mom. Soon I’ll have my first Mother’s Day without my mom.
I’m writing in the darkness, except for the glow of the monitor light. It casts a pinkish-blue cast of color onto my hands and makes them look old and wrinkly. Then veins on the back of my hands seem more prominent than usual.
As the Easter holiday ended, the family groups started going back to their homes, and gradually it was just my husband and our two boys and myself there with Dad. Yesterday the house was much quieter. We were sitting around the table, talking.
Suddenly there was a loud thump. I looked through the glass out the back door to see a flutter of feathers floating through the air. A bird had flown into the window. I looked outside and saw a dove, wings spread, neck twisted awkwardly, lying on the the door mat.
“Oh my gosh, Michael,” I said to my husband. “I bet that’s one of the doves that we saw under the peach tree this morning. Remember we saw the two of them together on the grass?” They had been walking side-by-side. “I wonder if the mate is around here somewhere. I think this one’s neck must be broken.”
But it was still alive. The tiny lids of its eyes flickered, and I expected the bird to die as I watched it. But instead it folded its wings beneath its body, and straightened it’s head and neck until it was sitting unsteadily on the mat.
My father wanted to move it out to the grass, but I talked him out of it, afraid that any further trauma would kill it for sure.
“It’s just stunned,” Michael said. “It will be better.”
We sat down to lunch. Every few minutes someone would go slowly by the door and peak out the window to see if the bird was okay.
One day, when I was a little girl, my mom, dad, and sisters were driving along Highway 37 during the summer. It’s a narrow stretch of road with water on either side. At that time, there was barely a shoulder to pull off onto in case of an emergency. There were so many accidents on the road, that it was known as “Blood Alley.” We were riding in our sleek, aged red Oldmobile station wagon. I loved that car because it had a rear facing seat in the back and a back window that rolled down.
Suddenly the traffic ahead of us slowed down to an agonizing crawl.
“Must be an accident ahead,” said my dad.
My mom was in the front passenger seat with her red pouffy hair and her white green tinted cats eye sunglasses.
“I hope nobody got hurt,” she said.
Finally we came to the cause of the traffic jam. A pheasant had been hit by a car on the road and been killed. Its bereft mate was standing over the body in the middle of our lane and wouldn’t move. Drivers were trying to edge their cars around the bird without hurting it, cautiously crossing the double yellow line and move into the oncoming lane because there was no shoulder to speak of on our side of the road.
I watched the birds as we crept past. I watched them the whole length of the side windows, and as we passed, I moved to the back seat and watched them out the rear window. Watched the cars slowing down; watched them make their wide arcs across the the lanes. Hoping that no one would hit that second bird.
As we sat there eating lunch, I told my dad that story and asked him if he remembered. It didn’t surprise me that he didn’t.
A few minutes later, my dad got up to check on the dove. As he moved closer to the window, the dove rose up and flew away into a nearby tree.
I wonder what it’s like for my dad when we all leave his house, and he’s left alone in the quiet again.