Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Seeing and Being Seen July 25, 2009


When she was a senior in high school, my mom was nominated for and then won the Miss Elsinore contest in the little town she grew up in.  She went on to get a runner-up slot in the Miss Riverside contest that same year.  I remember being agog at the fact that my very own, every day, utterly normal (only in a kid’s eyes!) mom was a beauty queen!  I would press her for all sorts of details and was constantly left a little disappointed because she seemed so completely uninterested in it all.  She would say things like, “Well, it wasn’t ME on that stage.  I had on 10 pounds of make-up!” and “Oh I hated that picture…but you know, I DID get to leave class one day for that photo shoot and that was pretty fun.”

The first time what she was saying to me really started to make sense was when I was a teen.  I’d brought the story up again and begged her to drag out the photos and she told me a few details of that week to make me happy.  “Mom, were you SO popular then?”  She laughed.  “Well, I had a date every day that next week!”  The thought of it made my toes positively curl with glee.  “And did any of them end up being your boyfriend?”  “Oh, love, NO.  No.  They didn’t want to go on a date with ME.  They wanted to go out on a date with Miss Elsinore.  To say they’d gone out to dinner with the local beauty queen.”

And there, plainly, was the crux of the matter.  Mom did not feel like, when she won that contest, it was based on real things.  She did not feel that she had been really seen.  She didn’t feel that it really had anything to do with who she really was at all.  Any real piece of her that had been there for judging had been slathered under pounds of stage makeup.

When I fell in love with my husband, I barely remembered how to put makeup on.  It was in 2001 at the tail end of my mother’s first bout with cancer.  It had been a grueling year and I felt stripped of artifice of any kind.  When we met I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all — I was utterly unprepared to be charming or beautiful or socially acceptable.  I was in a stage of my life where I grossed people out inadvertently by just explaining the day-to-day basics of our lives.  What we found funny at home other people in non-cancer world did not find funny.  When people asked, “How are you?” I couldn’t gracefully tell anymore whether they really wanted to know or if they were just asking because that was how conversation was supposed to go and the next line was supposed to be “Oh, fine thank you!  And you?”

I remember walking toward Ryan one night at a little dive we used to go to after coming out of the ladies room and realizing that for the first time of any that I could think of when he looked over and saw me and lit up with a smile, he was smiling at me.  All my cracks and dings and rawness were right there in front of him and he was delighted to have me coming over to slide back into the seat across from him.  As much as I loved him for so many wonderful things, I loved him for that.

There is something, I think, about being laid bare, recognized for who you are, and loved in the face of it all.

This is, in the end, what makes the love of my Savior so intoxicating and breathtaking when I stop in day-to-day business and ponder him.

Think about it:  There are stars in the sky so far away that our very strongest telescopes can only pick them out as specks of light in the vast distance.  Yet our physical beings are determined by 25,000 human genes that were not fully mapped until less than a decade ago and are contained in such microscopic detail that no human eye could ever decipher them without powerful aid.  Romans 1 declares that what can be known of God has been made plain to men and that His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that have been made.  What creation tells us is that our God is unfathomable.  He is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.

With the greatest of care and imagination He knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs.  He named us before we had names.  He knew us before we could be known by any other being and knew us more fully than we even know ourselves.  Every hidden dark place, every decision made wrong, every hatred, every cheat, every selfishness, every slight given was before his eyes when he then chose to love us with a deep, never-ending, fierce, perfect love.  He holds back nothing in that love.  Nothing at all was too great a sacrifice — not even the cross.

If, tonight, you are needing to feel love — ponder on this for awhile.  As unlovable as you may feel you are loved beyond what you can possibly imagine.  If you are God’s and springing to the front of your mind is “Yes but you don’t know what I…” — I can tell you that no matter how you finish that sentence, no matter how dark the ending, God knows and he loves you anyway.  If you acknowledge him, if you love him, if the darkness of the things you keep tight in your heart make you understand your need for the cross and, therefore, thankful for it then I can assure you that He knows and loves you still with a love that makes all things good and new.  He sees you and He has allowed himself to be seen.

I’m just a little bit agog about all of this tonight and so I thought I’d share.  Maybe now my brain will quiet down enough for me to sleep.

 

Uncle Richard August 14, 2008


When I came to Ivey Ranch, heart held in front of me raw and scared, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing there. I only just knew I needed a garden, they had one for me, and by Jove, I was going to grow things.

Richard is one of the first people I met once I got there. He is the reason I made it. Without being asked, he offered to till my soil, wet my weeds for pulling, wire my gates against renegade bunnies, holler if my son wandered too near the road by his plot. Without his help I would have ended up worn out, burnt out, and ready to quit within weeks of my plot lease. But Dick was there every warm morning with a smile and a joke and, if I asked, humble but accurate advice on just about every thing from weeds, to corn worms, to kids.

“Hiya, trouble!” I’d call when I got to the plots and saw him with his knee pads on, working away on his own plot or some newcomer’s who he thought needed encouragement. “How’re you?”

“Fat, sassy and happy!” he’d tell me every time. I knew the answer. That’s why I always asked. I tried not to worry when he’d have a coughing fit while I admonished Eamonn not to pick the green tomatoes, worried over my watermelons, and bemoaned my plethora of squash. I’d listen to him joke and laugh with every single gardener there. He’d ask after kids, grandkids, plants, and pets. He’d give a hug and tell a joke any time you’d need it. I had to fight with him to get him to take some of my organic plant food when he demanded to know how I’d gotten my corn so tall.

“Over my dead body will you pay me for that food, Mister! It’s time for a little payback!” I’d holler at him with a foot stamp.

“Do you see??” he’d ask anyone listening, “Do you see what I put up with?”

I really, really love Richard.

Rumor has it, it’s lung cancer.

We all try to water when we can, pull his weeds when there’s time, pile up his harvest for his neighbor to deliver when there are things to pick. Everyone’s worried and no one’s quite sure what to do. But the feel of the whole place has changed. It’s pensive, and it’s quiet, and we all throw glances at that empty plot where no one is hollering out sass and encouragement like he’s supposed to be.

It is amazing how one man can shape the face of a place and how his lack can make it so empty. When I consider it, I ache.

 

For the Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such As These July 9, 2008


Today I made pancakes for Eamonn and Ella as a treat because they have been such loves this week. They have fallen back into their easy pattern together: sharing more than arguing, hugging more than shoving, and running to each other and flinging their arms around each other dramatically every time we get to the condo.

On the way down the freeway, the closer we get to Ella’s house, Eamonn tells me with more and more frequency at every mile, “Mom? I luff Ellas. Mom? I luff Sy (his name for Josiah). Mom? I see Tata (his name for Crista, which we find hysterical)? Mom? I Ellas? I luff Ellas and Yon (my brother).” In between each of these sentences I am peppered with demands to go to “Ampa’s” house and told that “Dah-ee” is at work and that Dah-ee, too, is the object of his undying luff.

When we get to Ella’s, I hardly get the door open before they are running at each other, a tangle of 5-and-2-year-old hug in the entryway. “ELLAS!” my son cries. “OH EAMONN!! I’m SO GLAD you’re finally HERE!” Ella responds. “Hi, Sy!” Eamonn croons at Josiah in his exersaucer and then cries, “Won, Ellas! I play!” Leaving me to the baby, Ella and Eamonn run down the hall together to drag her play table and chairs into the living room while I get Josiah ready for breakfast. They sit across from each other while Eamonn sips “cossee” and Ella reads, like the oldest old married couple you ever did see — perfectly content in their pretend routine and comfortable in the given of the other’s love.

This makes my mornings good.

Because we’ve had a reign of peace this week, as I said, we celebrated this morning with blueberry pancakes. “Aunt Mary?” Ella asked as I whipped up the batter, “Are these blueberry pancakes going to have chocolate chips in them? Because that would just be my favorite.” I secretly designed to put chocolate chip smiley faces on them, but to no avail — we only just had blueberries.

Over breakfast Eamonn chattered and Ella asked for interpretations or interpreted his words to her own designs. “I think he is maybe asking if we can watch TV after breakfast Aunt Mary.” “Really, Ella?” I replied, “Because he just said something about vitamins.” “Oh! Vitamins?” she replied, “Well why would he ask about vitamins? I just thought maybe he likes Sesame Street. That’s what I was thinking.”

It is very hard not to laugh over breakfast.

And then she hit me with it.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“Even though Grandma is with Jesus now, could we still have a party for her? You know, when her birthday comes? She still has a birthday, right?”

“Yes. Yes she does, Ella. It’s in October.”

“So, we could maybe have a party for her, I was thinking? We could remember her even though she’s not here anymore?”

“I think that would be a great idea. We could remember all the things we love about her while we were together.”

I swallowed tears and choked down pancakes.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“What did Grandma give me? I mean, which of my toys did she give me that I could bring to the party? I am thinking maybe I would like to bring two things to talk about that she gave me.”

“I don’t know, love. We need to ask your Mommy about that. Like…Eamonn…he sleeps with his tiger from Grandma Wagner and his Dino from Grandma Kathy…I know she gave you toys too but I just can’t think which ones those are.”

“I know I have some,” she said. “I just cant think what they are. But she did give me things.”

“I’m sure she did, love. I’m just not sure which things.”

It’s amazing how quickly pancakes, butter and syrup can taste like cardboard. We ate to the track of Eamonn’s chatter.

“Aunt Mary!!”

“Yes, love?”

“I thought of it! I thought of what she gave me!”

I thought she meant a toy and asked, “You did? That’s great! What did she give you, Ella? What would you bring to the party?”

“Aunt Mary, she gave me all of her MEMORIES! That’s what Grandma gave me! All the things I remember. That’s what she gave me. I will have those with me for always!”

And so, for the umpteenth time, I did not make it through breakfast without weeping.

Just as many nights I end the same way.

Twice in the last week my son has been woken in the night, weeping. I go into him and immediately after I calm him he asks, “Mom, pray?” Always, I agree and we begin to pray. But inevitably he interrupts me, “Mommy…I pray Ampas.” “You want to pray for Grandpa, Eamonn?” “Yes,” he tells me, “Pray Ampas.” And so, we pray. We pray for all our hearts but on those nights we pray especially for Grandpa’s.

The Lord used my Mom to touch hearts and she certainly touched Ella’s…a kid with one of the softest hearts I’ve ever encountered. And I am so thankful to see how my Dad has touched Eamonn in some way that goes beyond the explainable, but gives me joy all the same. As my mother-in-law so aptly puts it regarding these children, “There are waters that run deep.”

It is so humbling when your faith is challenged by that of a child, but it is hard not to be challenged in the face of Ella’s faith and Eamonn’s instinctual desire for prayer. I go through so many days challenged, hurting, not thinking of the hope I possess so securely because of what Jesus has done for me.

I keep stopping here and not knowing what else to write tonight. How do you go beyond something like that? Tonight I cannot. It’s as far as my heart will go. And for now I am content to be led by the wisdom of a child…and I am thankful for the solace of prayer and my memories.

Such pals from the very beginning…Mom and Ella
Mom and Ella together, peas in a pod.

Mom and Dad with Eamonn hours after his birth
Mom and Dad the day Eamonn was born.

 

Longing June 6, 2008


Eamonn woke up in the middle of the night shivering and crying and I’d brought him to bed with us for a little while so that he could calm back down and drink some water. I slept for a bit with my nose in his hair, remembering all the nights I clung to my mom when I was little, wishing that she could just stay the whole night with me. There are few aches like the aches we feel when we long for our mommies. I hold him a little closer when I feel like that and his poor, hot baby skin burned against mine while his fever did its work and he fell back to sleep.

I have been having strange dreams every night and last night was no exception. I keep dreaming I am with my mother and that she doesn’t know she’s dead and that it’s my job, somehow, to make her understand. I wonder what my heart is trying to process that makes me dream this over and over again?

When we woke up this morning, Eamonn and I were both a little the worse for wear. Since I was a little kid, a family remedy for morning blues was a trip to the local diner where all the waitresses know you. So I packed Eamonn up with promises of pancakes and we headed out to our nearest family-owned diner for breakfast.

My visits to this particular diner have been shaky at best since Mom died. It was a favorite of my mom’s and mine. It is where she, my mother-in-law, and I went for pie after seeing Eamonn on 4d ultrasound for the first time. We sat in awe with huge smiles and lots of tears, cooing to the waitresses about how clearly cute and talented my boy already was, even in the womb. We used to just sit there on rainy afternoons and laugh at Eamonn’s antics as he flirted with waitresses and old ladies who stopped by the table to say hi. It’s a busy place, but they never hesitate to pour you just one more cup of coffee over and over again when they know you. It’s the place mom took me for lunch to let me know that her cancer was back. She’s the only person I know who would buy you lunch to soften the news of her own cancer. Doesn’t it seem like cancer should be a free lunch ticket? But not to my mom.

On our visit to the Village Kitchen the week before last, I finally explained to Curtis, the owner’s son, why Eamonn and I had switched down from being a party of three to a party of two. It makes it a little easier to know that they know when I well up over my coffee, which seems unavoidable when I’m there these days. Today was no exception.

I ordered eggs, pancakes, and bacon for us. I always get cheese on my scrambled eggs and while Eamonn and I were eating we started to laugh as I pulled and pulled at a bite of cheddar and egg — the string of melted cheese was never-ending no matter how much I twirled my fork. Suddenly, like a loudspeaker had been turned on in my head, I heard my mom laughing. When Eamonn was about a year old we’d ordered him a grilled cheese sandwich and laughed over the very same melty cheese. “It’s longhorn cheddar!” she’d giggled, “What a dirty trick to play on a kid!” and we’d melted into hysterics while trying to help him manage his sandwich with such a little mouth and little hands.

Bam. Tears. That’s all it takes right now. Oh how I wanted her there.

Eamonn lasted beautifully through breakfast and then a trip to the hardware store for canning jars, but he was so tired when we got home. I put him down for his nap early and after listening to him cry for a little while he started to sob, “I lubbus, mommmm. Mommmmm, I lubbus!” His baby version of “I love you.” I couldn’t resist. I went and scooped him up and snuggled him against me in his rocker while he finally calmed down and slept. The smell of him, the weight of him, and the feel of his little hand on my neck — all of them made me ache.

This all got me to thinking about longing. I deal with a lot of longing right now. I shudder sometimes to think about the weight of the longing my father must feel without my mother there anymore. But in the midst of all of this longing, there is hope. And maybe this is why, though I long I do not fall apart the ways I expected to. And maybe this is why, too, I keep dreaming that my mother does not know that she’s dead. I’m trying to reconcile my earthly understanding of death and the seeming permanence of it with the faith I have that what we see here is not all there is.

Last night while I was cleaning, I unearthed the Christmas letter my mom wrote in 2006, only months before we found out that her cancer had returned. After all the family news was done, she mentioned that for the first time in years, we were all going up to spend Christmas with the extended family — her brothers and all of our cousins and our kids. She wrote:

“The whole bunch of us are going, and there’ll be lots of hilarity and reminiscing over old times, longing for others who won’t be able to be there, and remembering loved ones long gone. It will be a sweet time, and we can hardly wait.

There is another greater Family Gathering coming
that we both find harder and harder to wait for with each passing year. That gathering will be what our Creator took on flesh for on that first Christmas and BURST into history to do battle to reclaim. It will be what He WON, on the cross, at the cost of His own life. It will be what He planned from the very beginning — His living in warm-hearted “family-ness” with His people — no more guilt on our part, no more fear, only perfect security and everlasting purpose and contentment. And it will be just as real as you standing there with this letter in your hand reading about it.”

Yes.

And so as I weep and ache and long, I do not despair. My mind is trying to grasp that while she is gone from here, she is alive and well. And all shall be well. All manner of things will be well. And it will be just as real as you sitting here in front of your monitor reading this blog.

 

No More Normal May 23, 2008


I think the thing that has been most deceptive in this experience is my thought that I was understanding the permanence of the loss of my mom, when really I didn’t get it at all.

When a loved one dies and when you are as involved and as close as I was to my mom and her illness and death, it’s very easy to think that you understand what is happening, that you get how serious it all is, that you get the “big” in “the big picture.” But the thing is, you are operating so far outside of life’s norms up until that point that you really have no idea. I remember laughing a couple of times, quite gallows in style this humor was, when one of us would say, “Well, when things get back to normal…” Somewhere we knew that “normal” was going to take on a whole new meaning. And acknowledging it made us feel safe from the vastness of its reality. We all felt, I think, like we’d already encountered it and dealt with it. Which is just a sign of how naive at least I really was.

The thing is, immediately before and after a loss, you never get a chance to forget that it’s happening. When all you think about every single day and waking moment is about that person’s death, you never have a moment when you forget it all enough to be surprised and hurt by its reality. While it seems stark and awful at the time it really is a mercy in its way, this constant knowledge of loss.

But now, now as things take on the semblance of normal again, as I learn my life as it is now, things seem the same and I’m lulled into a sense of living in the normal “before”. As work has begun again, as my house has needed to be cleaned in earnest, as we have set about the day-to-day again, I have begun to forget at times that she is gone. I will be driving and think, “oh gosh I forgot to tell mom that…” I will wake up in the morning and in that lull between sleep and awake will think, “I wonder what mom is doing today — maybe she’ll have time for pancakes…” And then it sets in. That today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that and on and on until it’s my turn to go home, too, she really will not be here.

It is not eloquent, my description of how this makes me feel: It makes me lonely, and it hurts, and I really, really, really miss my mom. For our family right now, there is no more normal.

 

Mother’s Day May 11, 2008


Today I woke up from an afternoon nap with the quiet, low feeling I get that can make me weep if it lingers. May gray is taking its toll. This first Mother’s Day without my own is taking its toll as well.

I lay in bed for a while listening to Ryan in the front of the house and to the quiet in the back of the house while Eamonn slept a bit longer.

I am a daughter of unusual privilege. While losing my mommy this year, I had another mommy taking care of me. My mother-in-law, another mother extraordinaire, was thinking of me, praying for me, talking to me over the miles and then, when I asked in desperation, she and my father-in-law flew to be with us over Eamonn’s birthday, something I could not face without a grandma present. Packages began showing up at my door. Gardening tools and gloves, seeds, cards — outpourings of love. She, who has lost both her parents herself, thought of everything she could possibly send to ease some of my pain.

In among all of the other things, she sent me a carton of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. Not the big ones. Not the ones in the box. No, she knows me too well for that. She sent me a case of the mini-cookies that come in bags. I love them.

Ryan went to surf this evening, after a sweet morning and afternoon of all of us together. I held onto my empty feeling chest while he left, braced myself for my empty house, and held on to my son who woke from his own nap in weepy tune with my mood.

“Eamonn,” I said, “do you want to eat cookies with me?” He stopped mid-sob and looked at me with tears wet on his cheeks. “Cookie?” he said, hopeful that he had not misunderstood. “Okay, buddy. Go get in your chair. I’ll get us cookies.” He ran on his little chubby toddler legs and climbed up into his chair. “Cook-IE!” he hollered while I poured us milk and got out bags of cookies.

Normally we split a bag. Today we each got our own. We sat at the table with our glasses of milk and dipped cookies daintily into our milk, smiling at each other with chocolate smiles.

It was enough to fill my heart up a little bit, to fill in some of the cracks in my smile, to open my lungs back up so I could breathe. Not the cookies themselves, though mind you they were good, but just that process of sitting there enjoying a mother’s gift and the simple process of spending time with my son.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, as you are celebrating your first in the presence of the Savior. I am so happy for you. Happy Mother’s Day, Kathy, my second mother here. I am so glad I have you. I hope that as I mother Eamonn and any other children with whom Ryan and I may be blessed, I will lavish love upon them the way I have had love lavished on me.

 

2 Months May 7, 2008


I don’t mean to keep a morbid time line of my mother’s passing. Really I don’t. But the fact that two months have passed by seems incredibly insane both in the “has it really been that long??” realm and the “no, it was ages ago” realm at the same time.

I miss her. Oh, how I miss her. I am fine most days and then there are the days where all I can do is cry.

But much of my crying is brought on by sweet memories. Here is one that was brought on by my sister-in-law Crista:

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I got strep throat for the first time. I remember having a sore throat and feeling soooo cold even though it was a hot day outside. Mom walked to school to pick me up from class and when she went in to talk to my teacher she wrapped me up in her own sweater and had me stand outside in the sun shivering until she could come back out so we could walk the few blocks home. It was so sunny and bright outside and I remember her telling me I had to have a fever if I was cold on a hot day like that.

When we got home she took me into the shower and got me all warmed up and into a clean pair of pajamas and bundled me into her bed where she served me a drink that, to this day, makes me smile and that I crave when I’m sick: Raspberry tea with milk and sugar. It was delicious. And while I sipped my tea-milk (that’s what I called it), she got out a book she had been saving for me. That was the day my mom first started to read The Secret Garden to me. It was a hardback, clothbound red copy with gold lettering on the spine. For three days we lay in bed and when I wasn’t sleeping, Mom read to me.

I was positively entranced. I knew that I loved books by that time, anyway, but that was one of the first times I lost myself in a book that I can recall. Even now, one of my standards by which I judge a book is whether or not it loses me. I can lose myself so deeply in a story that, when I put it down for a moment, I find the reality of my life jarring for a moment. That is the first time I remember that happening. When Dad would come home or Mom would have to get up to do something, I would be shocked to find myself at home in bed with a sore throat still, and not tucked away in Misslethwaite Manner with the “other” Mary and her cousin.

I asked Crista if she would mind my reading the story to Ella, as she found the original copy of the book my mom had used to read to me.

How appropriate, these days, that one of the ways I can carry on one of my Mom’s special memories with me is through a book named “The Secret Garden.”

 

 
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