Driving, weary of the political, I shuffle my iPad sleeping in the glove compartment and Neil Diamond’s 1970’s face with big hair appears on my Subaru’s display. I’m carried away to the passenger seat, my father driving. “Turn that up, will you?” his voice angsty as a teenager hearing his favorite band. “Sweet Caroline, bum bum bum,” he would sing with the horn section, hum the acoustic pauses as we replayed Neil’s All Time Greatest Hits until we pulled into the driveway.
Now that he’s gone, I hold on to those moments like a fading dream upon waking . . . How he would slip the dog a slice of cheese, muddle the fruit in his Old Fashioned, mail me a Valentine every February 10th. He would listen with the attention of a minister and parse out wisdom: Never go to bed angry, Measure twice, cut once, or joke, If you can’t be handsome, at least be handy. He was handy with a Phillips, but more at home with a dictionary and a crossword, “What’s a five-letter word for ‘delicious’?”
I will always remember my mother’s nods to these adages. She wouldn’t stay in the car for the last verse of Cracklin Rosie; she’d be unloading groceries or already gone. She was always moving, always making – kneading bread, stirring soup, carrying firewood, wildflowers, baskets of vegetables. “Like this,” she would show me her trick for rolling out pie crust, for ironing a shirt sleeve, for making a tight wreath. In motion until the dinner dishes were put away and the kitchen lights turned out.
Now that she’s gone, I conjure her up on my walks – she’d been on every path on this rugged Maine land – like the trail that ends in felled trees and swamp where she insisted we could bushwhack, until we found ourselves in thick brush with fading light and no sense of direction except our muddy footprints home. Our cellular memories are linked in walking – sometimes I’m surprised when I suddenly find myself alone.
Childless, maybe I will always feel the child: now orphaned, dreaming of my childhood home, tea kettle whistling, bread rising, ice-cubes jiggling, a half-knit sweater on the kitchen table, a crossword puzzle half-done. I am, I said. To no one there.
Photo provided by the author.