To all the ladies who cook roast.

I’m getting older.  With that comes a lot of things.  Wrinkles on my face that weren’t there a few years ago.  Favorite music that my kids have no clue about.  And, sadly, a quickening procession of good people who made me who I am that are now gone.  That line lengthened this last weekend.

Her name was Margene and she was my nephew’s grandma and my first sister-in-law’s mama.  I came to know her back in the eighties when my hair was big and my goal was simply to get out of my tiny town and away from my own mama. That’s just the truth. What can I say?  I was young and dumb.

Anyway, I got my wish.  I went to a college seven hours from home. I didn’t exactly have the best car and it wasn’t long before I knew what it was to miss home.  I would call my Mom on the phone just to ask what they were having for dinner.  I would push the phone into my ear trying to hear the house noises that meant home.  Was the washer going?  Could I hear the TV in the background?  The rumble of my Dad’s voice?  Many a night I cried myself to sleep hungry for what I had ran away from so willingly.

In many ways, it was my brother and his new family that rescued my heart during that time.  They weren’t too far for my crappy car and I would go to see them on weekends.  When I did, Sunday mornings meant church and a roast for dinner.  We would sit through the sermon and then pile into a hot car and end up around Margene’s table.  And, every time, the roast would be ready.  Hot and fragrant and perfectly cooked.  There would be steaming  potatoes cooked in the rich juice from the roast and, if we were lucky, broccoli and rice casserole.  It never failed.  It was certain.

That’s a big word. Certain. Now that I am a mom, I realize how hard “certain” is.  To create that feeling for other people is a commitment and a life choice.  I wonder how many of those Sundays Margene would have liked to grab a burger on the way home, how many times she dreaded the sink full of dishes afterwards and the scramble to find dishes to save the leftovers?  I think how many times I have bailed on the responsibility to be the “certain” for my own little family.  Wonderful women like Margene know how to be selfless in a way I’m not sure I do.  I try.  But, let’s be honest, there haven’t been too many Sundays in my house where the roast was ready and waiting to be dished up as we came in from church.  Maybe three?  Yeah, probably not even that many.

I think, maybe,  in our rush to make life quicker, and more fulfilling and easier we have lost something that people treasured not that long ago.  A knowledge that some  of the best sweetness of life comes from creating moments for other people and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Even if it means setting your alarm for an hour earlier than everyone else so you can make sure the roast is ready right on time.  Even if it means peeling extra potatoes when your new son-in-law’s sister shows up for Sunday dinner-again.  Even if it  means doing that for many faces, around many tables, for many years.  It means being ok being second if it means someone else can be certain.  Certain that they will find a smile, a kind word, a delicious meal.

So, thank you to all the ladies who cook roast every Sunday and thank you to one of my most treasured “fill-in” moms, Margene.  I can never really say how much those Sundays around your table meant to me.  I find myself pressing into my memories trying to hear us all there laughing and talking while our forks clinked on the plates. All of us loved and fed under your watch. I find myself homesick for a moment you built for us.  I will miss you and I will work harder to be ok being second and to be certain. Thank you.

Hebrews 13:16

That blanket.

You know those blankets you buy at Wal-Mart?  Not the super cheap ones in a bin, but the kind of nice ones?  They come folded in a square with ribbon buttoned around them.  They are made of that plush stuff that feels like velvet. Around thirty dollars?  I bought my mom one.  It was a couple of Novembers ago. It is those deep warm colors that mean Thanksgiving is coming and Christmas soon after.  Mom loved it.  She wanted it all the time.  She curled up in it to watch Blue Bloods and politics.  She drug it with her to all her chemo appointments. She loved it.

So, on that quiet early morning when she died and the two young girls who came to take her asked me, “Is there a special blanket you would like us to wrap her in?”  I gave them that one. That blanket.  The one that was mass-produced and meant nothing to me except that it was soft and I knew Mom liked it.  That blanket became the one that I tucked and smoothed around her while the young girls stood silently waiting in the next room. That blanket became the one they folded her into and took her away in a car that nobody needed me to drive. That blanket began my life without my mom.

A week later, on a hot June day, we had her funeral.  Afterwards, my sisters gave me a bag.  A Wal-Mart bag funny enough. Inside was something velvety soft and harvest colored. That blanket.

“The funeral home washed it and gave it to us and we thought you should have it,” said my sister.

I watched her mouth move, but I had no concept of what those words really, truly meant.  Now, seven months later, I do.

That blanket is my snuggly, fake-fur covered heartache.  It has its’ very own spot in my linen closet, because how do you stack towels next to the blanket you wrapped your mom in?  It will never get used, because how do you choose that blanket when you are cold and need something to wrap up in?  For that matter, how do you live in the same house with it? And how could you ever, ever pack it away? What would it feel like to open those doors and not see it there peeking from a corner? Am I supposed to store it in a box in my dusty attic where I’ll seldom see it?  How could I do that? How can I not?  What do I do with that blanket?

On some level, I’ll be honest,  I kind of  feel like I don’t give it enough honor. I think there are people who would frame it or something equally as magnanimous.  Are there those people?  Maybe?  Honestly, I don’t know. Truthfully, a lot of the time I just want to get rid of it.  I want it to magically disappear from my linen closet.  I want to open those white doors and see nothing but red and blue towels, but I also know it would completely destroy me if it happened.  I would tear my house apart until I found it and it was safe in the linen closet again.

Right now, I’ve just accepted that I need it? I mean it’s a reminder of a time when Mom was here. A bridge back to then.  A life when I could call and ask what mom was doing and my sister would say, “She’s wrapped up in that blanket you gave her taking a nap.”  And, I would hope. Hope so big. Hope that maybe she was going to get better.  Hope that that one particular nap would restore her and give her the strength to fight.  Or other times when Mom would get on the phone and tell me she had the blanket covering her feet and was watching TV and eating something and it was, “de-lish.”  How beautiful and amazing was that freakin’ life?

I get it. I really do.  I’m not dumb. I used to watch Oprah.The blanket represents my grief.  Grief with homespun plaid and blanket stitching and velvety Fall colors. It is the one thing I hate and want to get far away from and the one thing I want to envelop myself in completely.  It is the push and pull of letting go.  Of moving on.  Of feeling happy again.  Of being ok with any of that.

So, I’m just passing days. And I’m ok with that I guess. Maybe, on a cold blustery day in the future, I will need just the right blanket to cover up with to watch a Hallmark movie and mom’s blanket will be carefully packed away and I’ll be ok with that. I’ll pick a blanket from the big basket by the couch and I’ll settle in to watch a Hallmark movie.  Maybe that car won’t cross my mind and maybe even if I think of Mom it will just be to remember how much she loved that blanket. On the other hand, maybe next time you visit me it will be displayed across my wall with floodlights accenting it.  I really don’t know.  This is an ongoing process.