on her birthday i drink my coffee black with two sugars, the way she did. there isn’t a single cloud in my coffee on march 28th, only the gentle clank of her silver teaspoon on my favorite mug. it can be heard anywhere in the house.
deep chestnut brown, almost black, that was the color of her natural hair before it began to gray and lighten in her late forties. for as long as i knew her, she wore it cropped and cut close to her head; never a ponytail or barrette even. she had soft, milky white skin and the dark warm eyes of a teddy bear; they crinkled selflessly at their corners, sometimes a sparkle or dance. she loved ice cream, of course: coffee, pistachio, chocolate- and she knew to blow first on the particularly cold bites.
she was a woman of godly faith but became more serious about it all after her first marriage ended in divorce. before the divorce she listened to simon & garfunkel, kenny rogers, the beetles, after amy grant, point of grace and steven curtis chapman. she married twice, but neither were really right for her. she endured at least one bout of unrequited love in between the two husbands and i’m certain it was love nevertheless.
she liked games of all kinds, but mostly she stuck to cards; cribbage, gin, dutch blitz- the blue plough deck for her, the green water pump deck for me. her love of games extended to sports and she was loyal and loud for the boston red sox, the new england patriots and either uconn basketball teams. a hometown kid. her hoots and hollers, deep claps and yips could be heard from three rooms away.
there was always something in her lap. a stiff cross-stitched scene or a soft crocheting project- the green and yellow of a green bay packers blanket that last time. she was crocheting it for one of her five brothers in the days before she died. she’d told me about it in an email. her fingers were long & thick and they looked like they might be cumbersome but she had a dexterity and speed all her own. she was probably happiest when her hands were full, busy; making taco salads or beef chili, a trifle cake. or forever writing too many birthday and anniversary cards to count.
every sunday she’d wake early, drink her black coffee, comb her thick hair and take her heavily bookmarked bible down from its place on her shelf. her light blue pocketbook in tow she’d drive herself to a church called something-something-bible chapel four towns away. this makes her sound old, but she wasn’t, she was faithful and just 61 when she died. 71 today if that big ol’ beautiful heart of hers hadn’t given out when it did.
she worked the same job for 40 years. a desk clerk for the united states navy. and it was the ice outside her office building that cold february day that caused her to slip and set into motion the string of events that would inevitably lead to her death a few of hours later. when all was said and done, she’d died just three months shy of her retirement. a party she’d planned for herself, already in the works.
at her wake and even in some of the cards that arrived thereafter people would tell me “god must have called her up specifically” there could be no other reasoning. but i think people carry more than they’re ever comfortable letting on and sometimes hearts just give out.
at my wedding, three months before she died, after the vows had been spoken but before the carrot cake had been cut, she asked me “can we be a normal family now?” i didn’t have the heart to break hers on this, my wedding day, of all days so i smiled and hugged her, told her ‘what do you mean?! don’t be silly!’ but the truth is she was right, we were only ever anything but normal. there was and is still a lot of love there though, on both sides of the street. and while our relationship and time together in this life was layered and complex, she loved me like i was her own and she is the closest i ever got to a mother of my own. i feel lucky to have known her in all the sweet and unexpected ways that i did and i miss her every single day.
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