It was Mike’s idea do the “American Gothic” pose in front of our new (old) house. We stood side by side, beyond the concrete sidewalk in front of the kitchen door, where that tall grass is now. Back then, that walk had been tightly lined with yews.
Mike’s parents entertained Angelic Daughter at their place through moving day. We were ready for them now, the movers gone. Standing with an upturned pitchfork between us, we waited for the laugh. We got it.
Anniversaries come close, this time of year. Today, the twentieth anniversary of the day we moved in. Next Saturday, the third anniversary of Mike’s death.
Both days were hot. The house isn’t air conditioned, and we didn’t have fans when we first moved in. Exhausted from the closing and the move, we opened the windows and saved shopping for the next day.
That first morning, we heard a rooster crow. There was a small farm at the end of the road, with a horse in the field. I came downstairs around six, and saw a red fox in the front yard, looking right at me through the bay window, one black paw lifted. After about a minute of mutual stillness and staring, he trotted off, apparently satisfied.
The second day, early in the morning, someone knocked at the kitchen door, below the master bedroom window.
Mike went down and answered. It was a woman asking to buy the house. She had grown up near an orchard (there was barely a tree left of the one that had been across the street, decades before) and dreamed of a house like ours. Her prayer group was praying for her dream to come true.
I guess they didn’t consider they were praying for the destruction of someone else’s dream, hard earned through years at a job I loved working for a boss I didn’t, a savvy townhome purchase (I seem to have an eye for real estate that will appreciate) and urgent timing. When I heard her story, I was loudly unkind. “My God, we just moved in!”
“She hasn’t slept in four days,” Mike said to the lady, by way of apology.
Ten years or so later, he came around to my way of thinking – that to show up on someone’s doorstep two days after they moved in, whinging about how your purchase thwarted their dream when yours had just come true, was not a nice thing to do.
Our elderly neighbor, now long gone, got it right; she showed up with a plate of cookies and stories about what the house had been like before, and who our predecessors were.
We knew that the previous owner had died in the driveway, shoveling snow or trimming bushes. We welcomed his lingering spirit. We could smell his pipe smoke from time to time. It’s gone now. Perhaps he, like the fox, approved of our plan to live in this house rather than tear it down to build something bigger, which, in 1999, was what people did.
The executor left a watercolor portrait of the house on the wall that records the trees that were cut down before we moved in, the tree I had cut down since, and the yews I replaced three years ago with a bluestone patio and front walk, bordered by azaleas, ferns transplanted from my mother’s yard, sedum, catmint, Russian sage, yarrow, wildflowers from seed, milkweed (for the monarchs), buddleia and bee balm. Landscapers installed the walk and patio, and ripped out the yews. They put in boxwood, to grow into a privacy hedge, a serviceberry tree and a thick layer of organic soil, to get me started.
When we moved in, Angelic Daughter adapted instantly. I was stunned. Transitions had been so hard for her. But that evening we showed her to her new room, and her real, up-off-the-floor bed. She climbed right in and fell peacefully asleep.
Twenty years in the house today. Nearly three without Mike. Previous “moving in” anniversaries went unnoticed or unremarked, but this milestone magnifies Mike’s absence. He should be here to enjoy the anniversary and the new patio and the garden, planted specifically to attract the hummingbirds and monarchs he loved.
Three years as two-thirds of a family. Peaceful sleep has been hard to come by.
Angelic Daughter yearns for him. I ache for her. “His love is always with you” isn’t enough. She wants to know how to know that. She want to find him.
She wants to know what he wants for her, now.
“All I can tell you is to listen. Something in you will tell you Dad is near.”
“It’ll get better. Remember the happy times.”
I hope it will, and she can.
As next Saturday approaches, I remain,
Your trying-to-stay-strong, tearful, hurting, hopeful