November 24, 2022
“Huh, ha!” I gasped, awakening with the thrust of too much inhaled air in too little time.
The living space which surrounded me glowed yet softer than earlier. According to 1990’s homebuilding styles, the room was a modest size great room. Such a title meant that the kitchen, dining and living areas were void of divider walls. Above, the ceiling traced the roof line.
I loved the impact of the size of the room upon visitors. From the outside, my little home, the bungalow in the Wisconsin woods, presented an unassuming face. Surrounded by twelve acres, it was a charming beige ranch house.
Once a person walks into the foyer, the house smells good. Warm. Then a person walks into this great room. With just enough windows, the trees become a part of the room. Birds fly, darting from feeder to feeder. When snow falls, lightning flashes or sun shines, the room is pleasantly engulfed.
But in the darkest dark of early morning, the black joins us around the warmth of the fireplace. Now hours after I last fed the flames, the embers still glow enough to color this great room in tones of warmed honey.
My eyes lazily absorb the room. I’m in no hurry. I have the luxury of time. Thankfully, for an hour or so I know I can take my time. My eyes focus with that pace as does the awakening of my whole body. I had fallen asleep curled with Poesey in true kitty cat fashion, in the well-worn embrace of the lounge chair.
My Wise Mum looks at me with laughing eyes. “You were dreaming,” she chuckles. “Like Wally chasing birds, you were starting to thrash around a bit.”
I looked back at her with disbelief. I checked with a gaze to Poesey. Her ears flicked front, then sideways as if to tell me that she had enough. She had curled with me through my wildly active dreams but would not tolerate my sudden wakefulness.
“I don’t remember anything,” I explained. “I don’t even remember falling asleep or sitting down.”
“Good. You needed sleep.”
I love her motherly voice. Age has warmed her. Wise Mum’s words had always cut too sharp, too straight and too narrow. Right and wrong has been her truths. Her edges from long ago, those brutal truths which would leap from her mouth and the long silences she would wield as weaponry, had been ground down, curved softly into conscience wisdom.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Ice water. I would take ice water. I can get it, Daughter.”
“Coffee? Tea? Wine?” I offered with a bit of mischief. The early morning almost begged for a half glass of wine along with a stoking of the fire.
“No, no,” she responded, chuckling. “Sometime we will open a bottle with supper.”
“Someday I could “go for”an old-fashioned. Or a sniffer of brandy.”
We smiled at each other.
Mum added, “Do you still have the carafe I gave you? How about the set of glasses?”
By now we were both wide awake. I stoked the fire, poking and scraping the bottom ashes
“Yes, Mum, of course. I just haven’t used them in such a long time, I store them in the pantry.”
“Do you have a bottle of brandy?”
“Yes, I do, Mum. Look!”
Months earlier I decided to make room in the bookshelf cabinet for an abbreviated collection of common liquors. I hardly ever drank more than a glass of wine, but somehow the thought of whiskeys and brandy seemed hospitable. I think it was a carryover from 1970’s television.
I kept walking as we spoke the small talk of three in the morning. We chattered about favorite drinks and what my father liked to drink. We laughed as we told each other stories we had heard from one another in as many times as our days numbered.
The beauty of a modest great room was the ability to converse from opposite sides of the room. The twenty feet or so seemed both big enough to be spacious and small enough for the intimacy of talk.
“Your water, Mum.”
“What about you? Aren’t you thirsty?”
“I’m going to fix some tea. Would you like a bit?”
“No, the water is fine. You have the best water. How old is your well?”
We would talk further of well water and fluoride, then of dentists and medical appointments we needed to make.”
“In the morning,” we concluded together. We would call our respective doctors, catching up on our annual exams.
I grabbed two more blankets, then stirred the fire. It’s heat warmed the floors, chairs and countertops. There is little as satisfying as feeling the warmth in the coldest part of day. The room was still painted with splashes of honey-colored reflections of the fire.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I think I’m going to snuggle in again. I think I can sleep again. Mum?”
“Mm. Me too,” she replied as I covered her with another wool blanket.
“Thank you, Daughter.”
“Thank you, Mum.”
“Mum?” I asked as I sat down, pulling the second blanket around me. “Mum, when was the first time you heard someone call you the name?”
“Oh, daughter.” She replied with soft, even speech. “Which one? I have been called by so many names.”
“I know. But, I have seen them talk – heard them – calling me names, with so many different eyes.”
“Your father, though, he looked at me with love,” she gazed off, memories carrying her away for a moment.
“Oh, daughter. I know you have been called the same names. You have? You have seen those eyes?”
“Yes, Mum.“ I answered her next question before she asked it. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Look, Mum. Look what those names have done to me!”
I swung my head to pose in movie star fashion, then pretended to almost fall over. My childish cockiness, reminiscent of early adolescence, made her shake her head. She matched my arrogance with an equal mockery of motherhood disapproval.
“Bitch,” I heard her whisper. Her eyes twinkled and her voice bled in well-honed intellect.
“I thought you were going to start with the other name,” I pouted. We never thought twice about those names nor their impact upon us as long as the exchange was between us.
So much time we have lived! Our decades, though, were not always so lovingly shared.
And they definitely were not always understood.
We smiled, chuckled at each other, then turned to watch the crackling fire. Soon her eyes blinked longer, longer, then longer. The house once again fell asleep…