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Monday, May 25, 2015

A "Memorial" Day

Last week, we managed through the first anniversary of the passing of my husband’s father, who was an important part of our lives.  “Poppy” was a military man, served in WWII and in the National Guard for years, and was a fervent believer in all that is American.  It seemed appropriate somehow, that we lost him last year, two days before Memorial Day weekend. 

Some of you might have read the poem I posted here a year ago, which described the robin that sang outside his window at the moment he passed.  Since then, we’ve seen robins at so many significant times, as a family we’ve come to believe the birds are a cryptic message from Poppy, from wherever he is now.  And, at about noontime, my daughter texted me at work, “There is a robin outside my window.  He won’t move.”  Well, hello there Poppy.

But that only explains one of the things that made May 21, 2015 a day to smile in memory.

A few minutes after that, the following happened.  Bear with me here.  My own dad, good friends with Poppy, died eleven years ago.  As a veteran, my dad was eligible for a plaque at the foot of his grave, indicating his service.  In order to get it though, we had to produce his military discharge papers and they were nowhere to be found after he died.  My siblings and I all knew we should have pursued it, but none of us had the heart to wade through what we perceived would involve mountains of red tape and bureaucracy, and so that agenda item landed square on the list titled “someday.”

But on Thursday, on Poppy-the-military-man’s anniversary, I happened to have a conversation with our town’s veterans' agent, a man I met through Poppy. I wasn’t thinking about my dad’s grave, but the story of the discharge papers came up.  With that, the agent sat down at the computer, typed in a password, my father’s name and voila, up came the discharge papers.  In addition, the agent is going to walk me through the process of getting the stone ordered and placed.  So on the first anniversary of Poppy’s death, I began the process of putting something to rights that’s been wrong for too long. I believe, in all my heart that from some other realm, Poppy had a hand in this.

But, if you question that, listen to this. 

I brought the paperwork the agent gave me home.  There are choices to be made and so I emailed my siblings with information.  As I was reading the application, I came to this:

ADDITIONAL ITEMS may be inscribed at Government expense if they are requested on the initial claim and space is available.  Examples of additional items include appropriate terms of endearment, nicknames (in expressions such as “OUR BELOVED POPPY”).

Okay.  So now do you believe me?
Still shaking my head at the serendipity or synchronicity or whatever was going on, I went out to pick up flowers to put on Poppy’s grave.  It just seemed right that in front of the store, the Veterans were already soliciting donations… in return for donating; they offered…well, you know this one, a poppy.  I bought one and looped it around the ribbon decorating the plant I'd purchased.

After my husband got home from work, we went to visit his dad’s grave, then out to dinner and I recounted all of the ways that Poppy had been around today.  But, we weren’t done yet.  At home, I did a quick Facebook check before we went to bed, and the first thing that came up was this picture posted by one of my friends.

Giving thanks on Memorial Day to all who served our country, and giving thanks to Poppy, too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lilac Love

Growing up, we had a pink lilac by the back door and when it bloomed, I’d stand under it, trying to surround myself in its perfume.  My parents planted two more on the property border, one deep purple and one white.  My brother and his family live in that house now, and while the lilac at the back door long succumbed to some disease or my mother’s change in floral taste, I’m pretty sure the two on the border are still there.  I can see myself, at ten, or fourteen or twenty-one, reaching up to pull down a purple branch and burying my nose, enveloping myself in a scent that still conjures New England stonewalls, wet rain, and grass Kelly green in its newness. 

The first house my husband and I bought came with a lilac bush, a cutting transplanted by a generous neighbor before we owned the place.  For six years I waited for it to bloom but in one of life’s ironies, its first set of buds appeared about the time we locked that door for good and relocated, forty-miles up the highway. 

When we moved into our current home, someone dear gave us a lilac as a housewarming.  We planted it at the corner of the house, where we thought we’d get sun. We do, just not enough. Later that year, after trimming around the yard, we found two other lilacs, both white, posed behind a leggy Forsythia.  One of those succumbed to what we call The Great Tree Disaster of 2013.  But we still have two bushes.  While thin and reedy, each year they offer up a couple of blooms, and always, there’s a morning in mid-spring when I find myself standing underneath, reaching up to pull down a blossom and breathing in.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Taking Heart

Pretty, right?  A PJM Rhododendron, to be specific.  But I have to tell you folks, it’s so much more.  On Sunday, fat bumblebees bounced from flower to flower.  In the side yard, Kelly green leaves muscled out the spent forsythia blossoms.  At the front corner, my lilac bush, a housewarming gift from twenty-three years ago, offered up its first bloom.  All this as it is every May.

Except, this year, I’d begun to wonder.  It’s been a long, cold spring.  Just this week, the last of the snow melted from where they piled it on the beach parking lot, leaving black-sludge pavement. 

Sunday afternoon, I pruned the dry sticks of six hydrangeas.  We’ll be lucky to get any blossoms this year, yet I fertilized them with Miracle Grow and hope.  In the process, I found evidence of the deer that tramped through winter paths my husband plowed (for us…but the deer were opportunistic) chewed rhododendrons, an azalea and an evergreen ewe, gnawed to sticks.  Years of gardening, irreparably damaged by indiscriminate hunger.

But still.  In the first sustained warmth of the season, we sat around a new-to-us-but-vintage patio table, (our old table having succumbed to the weight of 110 record-breaking inches of snow) sharing Mothers' day snacks while bumble bees droned in the distance, and I could almost shrug it off.  Even after all that snow melt, the earth is dry and the wind churned up dust.  There may be rain midweek.  Saturday, I’ll head to the nursery and pick up some annuals, maybe a perennial or two, grab tomato plants and cucumbers. I’ll pull on my gloves, dig holes, and then forget and toss them off because I always do.  I'll use a brush to scrub the dirt from under my nails.

And at about that point, I’ll realize we’ve slipped it into the good times again.  Coffee in the rock garden.  Early morning trips in the dinghy.  Painted toenails and flip flops. Climbing out of bed early for sunrise photos.  Sun Drops and Bee Balm and Foxgloves seeding themselves wherever. 

I'm not there yet.  But after a few weeks I will be, and then, I’ll think about replacing those damaged bushes, recognizing something that was hard to remember this year.  A cliche perhaps, but one I'm taking very much to heart.  No matter how bad it seems.  There’s always another spring.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May IWSG - Longhand

This is my May contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group, where it's all about writers helping writers.  To read more posts, click here.

Life and stress play havoc with writing goals and sadly, I’m not immune.  But in the way you can never know what will inspire, there’s this.  I’ve had a temporary change in routine.  On Fridays now, I find myself in a place with no computer, lots of time and a notebook.  Before leaving home, I print out the last pages I’ve written, and once I arrive in my destination, I sit and write the next scene longhand.  Somehow, hand-to-pen-to-paper connects me to the piece, and words flow.  In my not so perfect world, I want to average five-hundred words a day on my manuscript.  I’m not sure I’d be close except for those blue ink pages, white-lined paper dotted with with scratch outs, my black, spiral bound notebook taking me places I’m struggling to see.