“My house talks to me,” wrote my mother. “It tells me breezes blow, that raindrops fall, that birds are nesting in the eaves.”
Elisabeth, my mother, wrote that poem in the final years of her life, living alone in her Visalia home. She was 84. Her three boys were grown and gone, her husband, my father, remarried and moved away.
Her poem hints of wistful silence—long days alone. Sometimes she would hear the click of the front door as if someone were coming in– a husband, a son. At first it bothered her that now there was no one there. Then, in time, it comforted her.
I miss my mother—more so when I read these words, discovered recently by my aunt, sorting through random documents. How I could share so many of the same feelings these days of breezes, rain and nesting birds. My house is silent too now. Gone are the giggles, grunts and slamming doors of an active family—Nina and her family. Gone the good and the bad.
Scary to face life alone? You bet. Suddenly, one is faced with obsession to make every minute count mixed with the prayer to do nothing at all. It’s hard to find that balance.
I’m doing it in much the same way my mother did, writing and reflecting. Her poem was clearly written to herself, as much of my writing is. But I am sure she found solace in her own words. Jumbled thoughts make sense in print.
That is how I have tried to make sense of this summer alone in my house, a summer of fleas, broken pipes and daylight burglary. But it has also been a summer of peace and reflection, life inching ever closer to my understanding.
My mother taught me a lot about memories, good and bad. She kept hers a personal journey. For years, I saw in my mother’s bedroom the clipping of a blonde toddler. She had framed it and put it on the wall near her bed.
“Who is she?” I finally asked. It was what my sister would have looked like had she survived. Eight years before I was born, Judith Claire Silverbrand died of pneumonia. She was six months old. The picture was a singular statement about a mother’s love.
We all cling to material things, as if memories would fade without them. I still have the old 45’s of my first radio job. Saturday nights in our Cutten home, Nina and I would play them on an old turntable.
I now work in radio, writing and reading news. At home I try to think about everything else– why dishes pile in the sink, why I don’t have patience to sort my laundry and how I can make my cat Amadeus happy. He deserves that. He is always there when I need him. Maybe he has no choice and maybe he is applying for other jobs.
If houses did talk, as my mother imagined, ours in Cutten where I am returning would tell of two proud people, Nina and me, and our life together. I’ll think of the steer that threw me in Ferndale one night. I came limping home from a TV story, pain from shoulder to shank. With a good-night kiss and a couple of aspirin, Nina tucked me in. For that alone, the pain was worth it.