Twenty Years Ago Today, Less Three

A home now more beautiful is yet less whole.

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.”

Will it?

“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

Ridiculouswoman

Tandem and Telescope: A Father’s Day Lament

The things you buy at garage sales or online just might be sacred objects.

The tandem is gone. I finally sold it, at a garage sale, for a tenth of what it originally cost.

The telescope, too. Sold on Letgo, for a third of a tenth of what it originally cost. It sat in the garage for more than 15 years; he stopped using it when something went awry with the star-finder thing; IMG_20190602_133923769_HDR~3.jpghe wasn’t much for spending time trying to figure out how to fix things, even if it was just how to recharge or replace a battery. He lost his astronomical mo.

Or maybe it was just that I had chosen the wrong kind of scope, or didn’t get the right filters or something, and he didn’t want to hurt my feelings so he used it for a little while and then retired it to the garage, where it stayed gathering dust for years. I was glad to see it go.

The tandem is another story. That was hard. It went to someone down the street and around the corner, but I’m guessing it isn’t going to stay there – probably will get resold for more than I got for it.  So though I told the buyer I was happy it would stay in the neighborhood, I cried when it was rolled away.

Mike transported our daughter all over the place on that thing, from the time she was in elementary school through half of high school, when she had gotten big enough to make her difficulty with pedaling with any force, a problem.

The diagnosis came a year or so after that.

So off to a corner by the wall in the garage it went, to gather dust itself, forlorn.the tandem

People in town who never met or spoke to Mike, knew him by that bike. They saw him riding her to school, then home by himself (a total distance of 5 miles), then back to school to pick her up and home again.

They saw them riding together on the bike paths, through the forest preserves and to the pool in the summer.

The bike, and how Mike used it to get her from place to place, become a sort of living “meme” of  fatherly devotion around here. Mike simultaneously got our daughter some fresh air and exercise (her legs had to go up an down, even if she couldn’t pedal very hard) while also giving her a view beyond the boundaries of our home and her school. Kids with developmental differences are often isolated, kept in their “special” classrooms for more than half the day, then transported to some kind of program filled with more kids with differences, to spend time until a parent could pick them up.

Mike didn’t let that happen to her.

Even though he chose to spend a lot of time alone, imposing a lot of isolation on himself, and by extension on our daughter, they were a very happy team, and under his protection, on the back of that bike, she got a broader view of the world and its possibilities.

Mike also got time away from the routine – the frequent drudgery – of being the stay-at-home parent.

But he made sure we knew that he loved his job.

And the bike was very much a symbol of that. Not just to me.

So if you happen to come across a big blue tandem on E-bay or some other online marketplace, please show it some respect. It might have been ridden by a World’s Greatest Dad.

I never got him that t-shirt. He wouldn’t have worn it, anyway, and he didn’t need a t-shirt for everyone to see what a great Dad he was. All he had to do was get on that bike.

There are two women, myself and our daughter, who have shed more tears today over that bike, and the Dad who rode it with such strength, love and devotion.

May happy memories, and maybe a good bike ride, comfort those who are missing their Dads today, and strengthen bereaved Moms who have to tell their kids that it is OK to cry.

And listen, helpless, when they do.

Trying to decide whether today’s cold drizzly mist is a blessing or an excuse, I remain,

Your thinking of buying a “World’s Greatest Dad” balloon to tie to the shepherd’s crook at Mike’s gravesite,

Ridiculouswoman