It's the little things that matter: a Valentine for my mom
It's five years since my mother died on Valentine's Day 2009. I like thinking of her on the day dedicated to love, because she is so dear to me.
I wrote her a letter telling her about some of the big events in our family's life since she's been gone – the weddings, babies, my father's life after she died and his death in 2012, my oldest nephew's struggle with mental illness. But of course those aren't the things I would tell her about if she were here: she'd already know.
What I would tell my mom if I could call her up right now and chat the way we used to – or better yet, sit at her kitchen table with a cup of tea -- would be the little things, the minutiae of life. The birds that have been coming to our feeder, mostly chickadees, sometimes a dark-eyed junco – and the ever-hungry red squirrel who gets inside the feeder, sending our dogs into a frenzy of prey-chase drive.
The pine trees, birches and lilac bushes in our yard that were badly damaged in the December ice storm, some of which have sustained more damage from the latest storm. How sad it makes me to see the bowed, broken branches lying on the ground.
The casserole I made for dinner last night: I boiled chicken breasts and made a white sauce, cut up the chicken and added it and the sauce to the macaroni and broccoli that Maureen had made for the previous night's side dish. But it was not as easy as it sounds. First, I burned the butter for the white sauce because I was trying to feed the puppy while the butter was melting. So I had to pour the burned butter into the jar where we collect fat, wash the pan, get out some more butter and start again.
Then, after I got the chicken cooked, I was cutting it up on a plate I didn't quite have room for on the crowded section of counter I was using. Still, the plate was at least 80 percent on the counter. The dogs gathered around behind me, hoping for a chicken bonanza. Suddenly, the plate was on the floor in several pieces, the chicken was on the floor with it, and I was yelling at three dogs to stay away from it.
I picked up the chicken pieces, rinsed them under the tap, and added them to the casserole. Then I collected the bits of broken plate – fortunately, it broke in a few big pieces and did not shatter – and finished cutting the rest of the meat. The dogs each got a chicken donation for not helping themselves; it was only fair.
Luckily, adding the white sauce and getting the whole thing into and out of the oven went smoothly. I guess the kitchen gods had finally been appeased. The end result was delish – worth the mishaps.
Or I might tell Mom about shoveling snow with our year-old German shepherd puppy, Cushla. She is always ready to go outside and loves to play in the snow. She recently discovered how much fun it is to chase snowballs. Almost as much fun as eating them.
While I was shoveling the deck and steps, Cushla was pouncing on the snow as it was ejected from the shovel to land with a thump on the pile. Or she would get between the stair railing and the deck and catch the snow full in the face as I tossed it. She was leaping around from one side of the steps to the other to catch the snow or jump on it as I would change the direction I was shoveling.
Every now and then, I'd stop, bend down and make a snowball to throw for her. She'd hare after it, and try to bat it around in the slush where it had landed. I'm sure I got some extra exercise as a result of her “help,” though she seemed unfazed by her own much more vigorous workout.
Mom and I talked about what we were reading; she always had two books going at a time, one for downstairs and the other for reading upstairs, in bed. About now, she would be looking at nursery catalogs and salivating over the beautiful pictures of meticulously tended plants. Spring was her favorite time of year.
We would exchange news of family members and friends we'd seen and a hundred other things that were less about giving information than feeling connected. Wish I could do it again.
Happy Valentine's Day, Mom. I miss you.