Saturday, February 5, 2011

Event Horizon

Mama's leaking.

Leaking smiley face stickers and Forever stamps. Leaking envelopes with the post office bar codes and the address labels with wooden shoes on them. Leaking that precise 1950s penmanship, though the letters are wavy and shaky now, like Sparky's lines and text before he died. This week alone she's sent two photographs – one of me fat in a BYU t-shirt, standing next to Dad in his sunglasses, standing next to Albert who looks like that kid in “The Phone Call,” the one who played the bassoon; the other of me and my younger brother but really young, he's got a bottle in his mouth and I'm skinny and look like my six-year-old. And she sent a letter I sent to Santa, asking for something or other from the Sears catalog – I gave him page number and price – plus a tank for my fish.

I wondered why I didn't get the tank. Now I know. Santa never got the letter.

Stopped at her house today. She just got out of the hospital, where they drained fluid from her lungs and gave her heart a shock treatment so it would beat more regularly.

She gave us a box of stuff.

Inside the box: a composition book I had in college, filled with blank pages. I don't remember if I cut them out, or maybe if Dad did when he inherited the book somehow. Another book, all in Dutch, about the little city in Holland where some of Dad's cousins live. I don't read Dutch. And there are three unsharpened number two pencils. And a box of bobbins and such for the sewing machine she gave Sherri. “Michelle sews,” Mama says. “She can use them.” Copies of typewritten blessings given to her mother and father. Copies of certificates. “I thought you might like those,” she said. A book on country ways I remember pulling from the shelf as a kid. And being bored by it. I'll read it now.

Mama's leaking.

When Dad was alive, we teased him. We teased that his idea of increasing the value of his property was by increasing its weight. That explained the ton and a half of landscape rocks he sneaked out of the woods at Kilgore, the eighty-seven trees on the third of an acre, the buckets of rusty nails underneath the workbench.

Dad's been dead ten years now. He wanted to be buried on the property. To make it heavier still, we teased. But he's in the Lincoln cemetery, underneath a pine tree.

Ten years now.

And Mama's leaking.

At her house today I saw on her desk – I went into the office to get a photo album for her; she wanted to show my six-year-old something because he brought his own scrapbook to show her – a pile of envelopes with more smiley stickers and more Forever stamps and more wavy handwriting, ready to go to other members of the family.

She left the room to use the bathroom, and the six-year-old climbed into her chair. “That's Oma's chair,” I cautioned. “She'll want it back.”

Then the ten-year-old came in.
“Where'd Oma go?” he asked.

“She disappeared,” Michelle joked.

“Yup,” I said. “It's time to take stuff from her house. What do you want?”

He didn't answer.

I didn't push the issue. Because Mama's leaking. It'll all flow out eventually.

“Do you have wooden shoes at your house?” she asks.

Yes, we do. You gave us two the last time we were here.

“Did I give you two, or a pair?”


“Take a pair, then,” she said. There are five lined up on the fireplace hearth.

They're hers. I don't want to take them, because I don't want to acknowledge that Mama's leaking.

“I don't know where we'd put them,” I said.

Later: “Do you have a penny jar,” she asked.

Oh yes.

“There's this one,” she said, holding up a jar of Dutch coffee.

No one in the house drinks coffee.

“And I've got more up there,” she said, pointing to the shelf above the stove.

Later: “Do you have any Dutch pictures,” she asked. “I've got too many. I don't have room for them all.”

We've got pictures of our own we don't have wall space for.

“Do you have enough pineapple? Fruit cocktail?”

We're heading out the door: “This is a big house, Oma,” the six-year-old says. And there's only one person living in it.”

“I know,” Mama says. “But I have the cat.”

“Our old house used to be so full,” she said. “Ten people, one bathroom. But we did it.”

She starts to cry.

Mama's leaking. I hug her for a while. But we have to go.

We take the box. We drive home.

There's another letter from her in the mailbox.

A photo of me in a striped shirt, with my brother and sister. All three mugging for the camera.

No comments: