Winter and I have known one another for a very, very long time. Granted, I don’t remember the first few years, being a baby and all, but I’m sure she does. In the same way my mother did. Knew every moment of my life from before my first breath. Gone more than fifteen years now, I am continually amazed at a love that has lasted much longer than a lifetime. Thoughts and remembrances of her awaken me like fragrances brought on the dancing breeze. The only other Earthbound soul with me from the day I was born left this world last year on Labor Day. My father and I had a singular way at goodbye, at which we would say “Don’t forget that I love you.” I never shall forget, Dad, as Mom has shown me. We don’t forget. Now here it is mid-January, right between their birthdays. His on the eleventh, hers the twenty-eighth. My daughter Miranda celebrated hers on the twenty-third.
She received a bouquet of flowers, the first time I’ve sent such a thing. There is, mixed up in this old mind, a certain bank. A pay-it-forward for the past sort of thing. It is born of the voices of my dear departed. When it comes to gifting, they lean over my shoulder as I open my precious Jack Benny wallet, and they whisper, quite insistently.
“Think of all the money you no longer spend on me. Christmases and birthdays and Fathers’ Days and Mothers’ Days.”
One has the outright audacity to remind me how he did not live long enough to gift me grandchildren bearing his likeness.
“All those Christmas presents…” he says.
As brutally direct as these ghosts may be, I cannot deny their logic. And so, this winter, this January, finds me sending a gaudy and over-priced vase of flowers with a card that reads simply “Happy Birthday Miranda. I love you. Dad.”
This marks the first birthday, the first winter, the first January since 1975 that is not celebrated with her mother.
From the loss of my father on Labor Day, we rode a roller coaster through our last fall together. For the first in thirty-five years, the kitchen of The Ark was not bustling and brimming with family and friends for Thanksgiving. My wife and I ate Thanksgiving dinner together in her hospital room. A homemade dinner, made and delivered thirty miles by our youngest child.
Alone in The Ark, I cut a Christmas tree, and adorned it with lights as the dog and cat looked on. I decorated for the holidays, not as much as a regular year, and hoped she would be home for Christmas. My children’s consternations were allayed with guarded phrases.
“Should the worst come to pass, it’s important, for the grandchildren, for my own children, maybe for me, too. It’s important to know that even when someone dies there still remains all the rest that we have come to know. Christmas will still come, and New Year’s Day. Pop Pop will still be here, still be Pop Pop, and The Ark will stand, upholding its ‘Holiday House’ traditions.”
Winters and Januaries, birthdays, springs and summers will arrive on schedule. We will continue to live and love and grow together, now without our dear “Mam”.
She left us just ten days before Christmas. She had finished most of her shopping before her hospitalization November first. She finished the rest on her laptop from her hospital bed. It was an oddly warm sensation as we opened the gifts she’d chosen. A timely reminder that love perseveres beyond the grave. A curiously bittersweet softening of our parting, as if she knew it would be at such a difficult time of the year.
And now there is my beloved winter. My welcome old friend January. There could be no better time to grieve, to mourn, to heal. A time when drawing the drapes and hunkering down is a normal pastime. Days like today; seven degrees, with wind chill: one. A foot of snow covers the ranch, and long, slender crystal icicles hang from the eaves. Yesterday was spent sipping coffee on the couch, watching birds at the feeders.
I thought I might begin to move and breathe a little. Not just going through the motions of life like the last three months, but looking for me, tossed aside in a closet somewhere during this tempestuous time. I might paint again, or fiddle with photography. Or write.
Okay, so if I’m not up to that yet, maybe watching birds. Play a few episodes of Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon on the TV. I moved the easel three times. Stared repeatedly at the unfinished canvas. The camera remained at rest beside the kitchen window. I pulled my journal from the chifforobe for the first time in months, but it sat on the coffee table, undisturbed all day. I played Sergeant Preston in the background while I performed the Saturday weekly cleaning of the pellet stove. Then shut the TV off.
Today, I raised the blinds and January leaped in through my window, cupped my face in her sunny and cool hands, and said, quietly and gently, “Good morning, old friend.”
A blanket of pristine snow glittered with diamonds under a bright, clear blue Winter sky.
And I opened my journal, and wrote this.
I see the temperature has risen to three degrees, with wind chill. Time to suit up and take the dog for a snowshoe hike.
Or maybe the dog is just an excuse.
For a long overdue and sorely needed visit with a very, very old friend.
Take care and keep in touch.