Trouble Called Again Last Night

Carphone useTrouble called again last Thursday night. The number illuminated in the landline phone’s small window. Mother. She’s eighty-four now. Father’s eighty-seven. They sold their house—where we lived when I was in in high school—about twenty-five years ago. Moved into a condo. They’re still living in the condo, independently.

A few nights earlier, during one of my routine every-other-day-or-so phone calls with her, Mom told me that Dad had a cold. He’d spent most of the day sleeping.

Dad’s a big guy, height and girth, though his impressive belly has deflated considerably over the last few years: a few hospitalizations, a diminished appetite. Though he doesn’t complain about it, he suffers from painful arthritis. With a cane, which he uses reluctantly, he shuffles around the condo, and inches his way from condo to car to restaurant to cardiologist to condo to couch for TV. He hardly has the strength to push himself up from the sofa. Gravity is calling him home.

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How to Visit a Grave

Guest Post
By Shannon Huffman Polson

1. Drive down unmarked road in rental car to a quiet circular drive. Try to ignore the weight of undefined expectations.

2. Wish that expectations were defined. By you or someone else.

3. Push away the thought that the name on the back of the stone is the same as your name.

4. Take a deep breath. Before opening the car door, flex your stomach muscles in case memories come at you kicking.

5. Walk to the stone. Try not to remember the burial. The gaping hole. The depth of it. The cold of the day. The sound of dirt. The color of clay. [Read more...]

The Day My Parents Were Raptured

In the spring of 2002, my sister Alyssa and I left college behind for a weekend to visit our parents. After driving two hours to reach their home, we expected embraces, but encountered an empty house instead. We received only aloof acknowledgements from their Birman cats, Ellie and Vignoles.

Upon searching the house for occupants, we came upon a loaf of fresh banana bread—still steaming—in a pan on the range.

“Where are Mom and Dad?” Alyssa asked. “This banana bread’s still hot. Mom couldn’t have pulled it out of the oven more than five minutes ago. Why aren’t they here?”

“You’re right,” I said. “This is weird.” Of course, as the children of a Southern Baptist minister, we probably had a different definition of weird than most people.

We surveyed the living room and saw Dad’s moccasins lying on the living room floor. Mom’s blue jeans hung, faded and folded, over the arm of her recliner in resignation. The torsion pendulum on the anniversary clock swiveled back and forth like a restless child in a desk chair. The house, despite being empty, felt alive—the furnace purring, the lamps illuminating the living room.

“M-m-m-m-maybe Mom and Dad were…raptured,” Alyssa stuttered.

[Read more...]

Becoming Both Daughter and Mother

Women are strong, strong, terribly strong. We don’t know how strong we are until we are pushing out our babies.
-Louise Erdrich, The Bluejay’s Dance: A Birth Year

Last November, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. And these past few months, I’ve done little but vomit, sleep, and try to find foods that will stay down. My mother predicted that this would happen.

“When I was pregnant, all I could do was run to the bathroom,” she has told me, over and over, trying to assign some of her experience to mine. Trying to find something useful to say.

My mother had been pregnant four times, the first occurring when she was twenty-five and married to a man who, in her eighth month, smashed a champagne bottle on her head. She hadn’t seen her mother in almost ten years, and had no resource besides magazines and women at the office to guide her through. [Read more...]

The Anniversary of My Father’s Death

“After the first exile, there is no other.”
—Rosellen Brown, The Autobiography of My Mother, 1976

The great wheel of the year has turned once more, and I find myself back at the beginning again. Not at the start of a brand new year, but rather, at the anniversary of my father’s death.

I was eight years old when he died, on January 8, 1977, after six long months of decline from lung cancer. In the family’s last-minute midnight scramble to the King’s Daughters Hospital to offer a final farewell, I was adjudged too young and too asleep to wake up for the ride.

I found out that he had died when I crawled from bed at dawn the next morning, yawning and jonesing for cartoons, only to find a bathrobed neighbor stoking the fireplace, and my father disappeared into ether. [Read more...]


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