I keep the change that I periodically empty from my purse in a square glass dish near my desk. I’m sure there are better things to do with my money, and it’s not always convenient to get to on the sill behind my computer. I still do it, though, because every time I drop coins in the dish, I see my father.
My dad was a hard working man who put in long hours in a tool and die shop an hour away from home in order to provide a house that was probably more than he could afford for his family. Sometimes when he came through the door he wouldn’t even speak to us, but I knew he was home from the sound of his change hitting the dish in the junk drawer. He would empty his pockets a few steps away from the garage, releasing his day as he went. Some days it took longer before he spoke to us, but mostly by the time his change and keys and wallet were in the drawer, he was with us again, and work was left behind.
Back then, that was just the shape of the day. Now, I understand a little more of what he was doing; divesting his body as soon as he could of the things he had to have in the outside world. He didn’t need money or identification or keys in his workshop or at his dinner table. He didn’t need to answer to anybody, or punch a time clock. He was home.
The dish was the first thing I salvaged of my dad’s things when my mother moved into an apartment. It’s not good crystal or an interesting shape, or anything more than a storage vessel. It’s thick, sturdy, everyday glass. And every time, even now, the sound of coins dropping into the dish makes me see him standing at the drawer, head bent, making his way back to us.
I never thanked him for what he did, and he didn’t expect me to. I thank him now with each penny.
Today would have been my mother’s ninety-first birthday. You would think I would be reminiscing about old times, remembering how well she took care of me whenever I was sick, calling the doctor for a house call and hovering over his shoulder in my fevered memory. The food she spent all day making for us, or how she was a do-er; how she could get “drunk” and giddy on just a Coca-Cola, or how she lost her first husband at the very end of World War II yet was strong enough to build a different life with my father and us.
Instead, I am spending the day wishing I could apologize. As my daughter approaches her last day of high school this week, I find myself understanding more and more about my relationship with my mom during our contentious years, discovering what she was trying to do. Time and experience wipe the bull-headedness of youth out of the picture, and I can see her more clearly.
I used to get so frustrated, so irritated that last year before I went away to college. She seemed to be holding even tighter to me, and I only wanted to take flight. As my girl does the same thing, I struggle to not want to hold her to my chest for as long as I possibly can. My mother would tell me things I already knew, give me advice I thought I didn’t need, and treat me like a child. I fought like a toddler wanting to be put down, trying to get away, only looking forward.
Mama, I understand. And thank you.
I woke up to a fresh coating of new snow after yesterday’s promising look of exposed ground, and I groused about what a tease Mother Nature is. Then I heard the news about the quake in Japan and tsunami warnings around the Pacific and realized that I can’t possibly be less than thankful for the gentle, additional layer of snow outside.
I angst about the state of my house, but people are losing everything they own as I type this.
I fuss about the seemingly useless classes my daughter is scheduled to take, but then I am reminded that she is quite privileged to have the opportunities she has, and a little fluff in her schedule is just a blip on her life screen.
I am frustrated by bickering and clashes amongst my family members, but I am fortunate that they are all here and healthy enough to fight.
I fume when students skip lessons because I skip getting paid for that time, but I have employment of my choice, and have the freedom to not have a 9-to-5 job, unlike quite a few of my friends who are involuntarily out of work.
I forget how truly lucky we are, how much we really have, and get drowned in the minutia of my privileged existence until something of this magnitude slaps me in the face. I am not in danger. My home is intact. My family is safe. And today I appreciate everything we have just a little more than usual.
I have given up eating sweets, so I have to find sweetness in my life in different places. Here are a few examples, and I am lucky enough to be able to pick and choose:
- That ten minute window between light and dark when the sky turns to aqua, gold, and pink fire.
- Friends who ask “how are you” and expect an answer.
- A daughter’s demand for a hug every ten minutes.
- Not being able to sleep because you want so much for the morning to come.
- Another adult telling me how great my kids are.
- Rekindling an old desire to do something and finding the fire was still burning after all this time.
- Being wanted.
- When you wake up at 2 am to a quiet house and anything is possible.
- The blank canvas of an unstructured day.
- To be loved, no holds barred, for what I am. (Unconditionally, even if it is only by a cat.)
- To have people around me that I want to love and take care of.
There are so many more, but these are just the few that occur to me this very moment. On this holiday, when sweet things are said, and sweet things are given, I just wanted to acknowledge some of the things I count among my treasures.
I got up early today so that I would be awake when the veterinarian called. It might have been a good day to sleep in just a little, as everyone is home today and we’ll be up late, but I didn’t want to be all groggy. I needed to be clear-headed in case I needed to be strong for the kids. In case I had to be strong for me.
Two cups of coffee and a two batches of cookies later, the call finally came.
“I have great news — I’m very happy with the progress he’s made. His kidney tests were much better, he’s been eating well, and the antibiotics seem to be doing their job. He’s definitely feeling better!” For a man who was “cautiously optimistic” and reserved yesterday, the vet certainly seemed excited this morning. As far as I was concerned, he sounded a lot like Santa Claus.
He went on to explain that we’ll have to give not only pills twice a day but subcutaneous fluids (yes, that means a big needle, administered by one of us), and that if we could get there before noon, he could come home. We got a lesson on how to administer the fluids and pills, and snuggled with a rather relieved kitty as we waited for him to be discharged. It would be hard for an animal to know whether or not his situation has changed permanently; it’s impossible to explain that you’ll just be leaving him for a while. Some cats get angry at you for leaving them, but ours seemed grateful to have us back again. That’s just how he has always rolled.
When we got home, he made sure everything was where he had left it, had some food and water, and is now under a quilt on the floor, nestled in the crook of my youngest daughter’s arm, keeping toasty warm. I’m afraid my daughter is stuck there for a while, but I don’t think she minds a bit.
He may not feel frisky enough to roll in the wrappings this year, but it looks like it will be a very happy holiday after all.
“Thanks for making me go to school.”
I looked around to see who the girl was talking to. After all, it couldn’t be me, could it? “No, really. We watched a film today in Family Sociology about people that didn’t make their kids go to any kind of school – just let them ‘learn from life’. They won’t get into college or get jobs. They were really messed up.” She walked on into the kitchen. “Anyway, thanks.”
What do you say to something like that? “You’re welcome” just seems blase. “Well, then, all the homework and complaining and fighting was worth it” is a bit too snide. “Tell me that tomorrow morning when I wake you up for school” was closer to the forefront of my mind, but I thought I had better not sully the moment with that particular comment.
“Sounds like you got a lot from class today,” I said instead. She emptied the ice tray into her glass and got a drink, absently brushing my cheek with hers on the way out of the kitchen. Hands full and moving to whatever was next on her agenda, she left me standing there like an idiot, half smile on my face.
I guess she was talking to me.