It’s just after 9 a.m. and I’m finally moving. The kids seem to get me up too early these days, but I won’t let the couch call my name again today (if I can help it). I pour my first cup of coffee – my favorite – and watch it swirl and steam up inside the cup, like futures in a crystal ball. I love watching that first cup of coffee. I add a dash of cream and watch it follow a counterclockwise swirling pattern.
Evelyn is sitting on the couch in her princess nightgown, swinging her legs and dress-up shoed feet in time to a song she’s making up. Shea is napping and Frank is still asleep.
It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, cool and clear but humid in nearly tropical proportions. At least to someone who spent the majority of the last 6 years in Ireland. I’m so thankful that this has been one of the coolest Julys on record in Indianapolis. It’s still been a hot one for us, but not unbearable, particularly considering we still don’t have the air conditioning fixed on our minivan. And it’s nice not to have to keep the air on all the time in house, too. I wish I could keep the windows in the house wide open all the time, really, but that’s unfortunately not an option in our neighbourhood.
I’m making strawberry cherry rhubarb jam. A strange combination, maybe, but it’s made out of the over-ripe stuff I have on hand, like all the best jams are (of course). I’m pitting the cherries with my fingers and staining my cuticles. Ah well.
Cherries get kind of a bad rap. They’re kind of the Regina Spektor of the fruit world – lovely and worthy but a bit of work to get into. Like drinking from a cup and saucer instead of a mug. Like starting your summer plants early from seed instead of buying 2 inch plants from a store. It’s a nice idea, but no one has time for that. I think it’s sad that people avoid cherries for “easier” fruits like apples or bananas or strawberries. When I was growing up in Montana, Flathead Cherries were anticipated all Spring. Rainier Cherries, too.
I remember the Friday fruit stall in Drogheda would often have gorgeous piles of ripe, red cherries that didn’t attract any attention beyond small swarms of yellow jackets. The proprietors would walk up and down in front of their stall with samples of the beautiful fruit, and samples of fresh Spanish peaches and nectarines, too, but couldn’t coax the aul’ Irish ladies to try any. “I don’t like the stones,” they’d complain. “I don’t like the fuzz.” So I bought some cherries, most weeks, and some peaches and nectarines, too, even though I was usually the only one in our house to eat them.
The jam is smelling pretty good and I’m sitting down with my coffee to finally read the Sunday paper. You read that right – it is Thursday. Better late than never – and I do enjoy paging through a real, live, inky smelling newspaper, even if I don’t get around to it for several days.
I wonder what kind of a day it’s going to be. I know it’s passe to say it, but I can’t believe a lot of schools have started already. It’s not even August! Not quite. I’m not ready for that. We ended our YMCA membership, so I don’t know what we’re going to do with Evelyn for preschool. So many up-in-the-airs for us right now.
As the jam bubbles away, I think of a dear woman who passed away this week, another loving mentor at the Tinsley Living History Farm. Helen Heaton was a wealth of knowledge and humour, and I pray she is hammering away on her dulcimer in Heaven. What an inspiring, strong, lovely person the Pearly Gates have gained.
And I think of another beautiful woman, this time a much younger one, who is nearing the end of her life as well. I met Susan Hodgin in 2006, I think, when I took a painting workshop from her at the Indianapolis Arts Center. She was lovely, bubbly and encouraging, and gave me a real love and better understanding for painting. I have never been a great painter, or even a good one, but she showed me how enjoyable it is to pick up a brush and some cheap acrylics and lose myself for a few hours. Not that I’ve been able to do that in quite some time! I went on to know Susan a bit better because she’s related to a friend of mine, so we would often frequent the same parties and book club. She’s a sensitive, honest soul and an extremely talented painter in her own right. She’s now also a wife and a mother to a 2 1/2 year old girl. And cancer has slowly sucked the life from her, without reason or fairness or even good timing. Not that there’s ever good timing for cancer. Cancer is a lot of profanities I want to rattle off right now but will spare you.
So we have to say goodbye to another life full of promise. We have to say goodbye to another friend full of sparkle.
I know we are all helpless, and this must be felt particularly painfully by those who love her most. I find myself wishing I had one of her works of art hanging on my wall, even a print would do, to remind myself during my own hard days that at least I have my life. At least my kids have a mother. Susan has been fighting for every breath like a champ, determined to live even her horrible moments to their fullest before she has to go and leave everyone behind. And I feel ashamed that I don’t always have that kind of fight in me. Looking at her work reminds me that, behind the lump in my throat, each moment (even a bad one) is a blessing.
So, for us, there will be jam at the end of the day. And probably a clean load of laundry (I won’t promise it’ll be folded) and some bills paid. There might be pain, but pain reminds us we’re alive. And perhaps that’s enough for now.
Kind of a beautiful mess.