Spring is here to stay, it would appear. While I’m not complaining about the unusual warmth and the budding of the trees we are experiencing here in Virginia( at the end of February, no less) it’s strange and somehow makes me feel a little melancholy. The itch I feel in my fingers, to get into the garden and start digging in the dirt, planting a small, almost invisible seed, getting up every morning, almost as excited as my kids, to check on the progress, brings with it the nostalgia of watching my mother bring home some little start of something green and somehow miraculously, grow it into beautiful, flowering life.
I guess in short, Springtime makes me miss my mom.
It wasn’t a surprise to me, when one morning a few weeks back, while I was standing in my father’s kitchen, although a space my mother never worked in, I felt her presence so very strongly that the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I was preparing food for my nephew’s birthday party, and in a rare moment of quiet solitude, because it was just me and her, somewhere out there in the atmosphere- I told her how much I missed her and wish she could be with us to celebrate the day.
The moment passed as quickly as it had come, and along with it, the pang of emptiness heartache. I finished what I was doing, tugged on my rain boots, rounded up the kids, and headed out into the wide open spaces of cow pastures and fields ready to be planted. The three of us took deep cleansing breaths, all in our own time, it reminded me of a song, a song we all knew, but didn’t need to rehearse. We searched for funny shaped sticks and discussed as to whether they looked more like woodpeckers or a guns…Let’s go with woodpeckers, I urged. Mentally rolling my eyes.
We tried to hang from old dead vines and kept up our pace in hopes that we would find the cows that usually pastured in a neighboring field. We walked slow, meandered about, stopped to check out rain puddles.
It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.
We could see the cows further on down the road, and as luck would have it, their keeper was out, feeding them breakfast from bulging piles of delicious hay. We tried to walk faster- hoping to get a front row seat.
Farmer Green (Yes, this was his real name) was on the other side of the electric fence when we approached. Friendly and open, he invited my oldest in to the pasture to meet some of his beauties. They all had names, youngest to oldest; they stopped munching and stared us as if we were aliens. Auggie, hand in hand with Farmer Green, cautiously walked around to meet these magnificent mamas, and their tiny babies-one was only two days old.
One by one he introduced us to his herd; I was only half listening, as I was chasing my two year old away from the electric fence. I had just noticed her trying to put a round ball of manure and mud into her coat pocket J when my ears perked up because Farmer Green stopped reverently in front of what he referred to as his friendliest and sweetest cow. I took a second to look into her deep brown eyes as I heard him say, ‘Now this one, this one here, her name is Marilyn.’ I stopped messing with Ebba and looked at him, a little bit shocked- what were the chances? He was smiling at her, in a way I couldn’t explain- reverence, pride. But all I could think was, “Marilyn? Her name is Marilyn?”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. My mother’s name was Marilyn.
And what he said next, made me have to turn away in order to push down the tears that were inevitably to spill over. How do I explain crying in the middle of a pasture, over a cow I had just met? He put his hand out to a calf standing next to ‘Marilyn’- she came over and nuzzled him, and he just said, “And this here- well, this is Marilyn’s little girl.”
I stooped down, trying to make myself busy with whatever so I could brush away the tears.
Marilyn and her little girl- that was once me, and my mother.
While I realize that this story may not resonate with everyone, and lest you think I am comparing my mother to a cow, all I can say is that you would just have to have known my mother. This was a woman who once spent two entire months trying to find a home for a gold fish that she couldn’t keep anymore. She finally found a farm with a pond that passed her standard of humane care, and off they went, I think she may have cried on her way home from dropping them off. When an inherited bird finally reached the end of it’s life, you would have thought her best friend had died, not the bird that it had come from. And at her memorial service, a treasured friend got up to share her memories of how she had met my mother- they had been in the same grief support group. The friend had lost a family member, but my mother was there to figure out how to get over losing her dog. My mother took in every stray thing with at least one leg and a little bit of fur. We had tail-less cats, fish with no eyes, and if it had an ailment, it definitely had a home with us. We always called it, “Marilyn’s Mission of Mercy.” We teased her, but oh, how we loved her for it.
So of course, OF COURSE, she would connect with me in this way on a lazily perfect Saturday morning in the middle of a cow pasture. She knows me, and knows that I know her, and although it’s been 7 years and my life will have forever shifted because of it, I believe that if I just pay attention, just take the time to notice, she will continue to show me her presence in my life in such sweet and simple ways.
How lucky I am to have these things- these connections with her. How lucky I am to have learned this person, who for all her quirks and passions, in the living of being her truest self, has allowed me to find her time and time again- because of that.
Someday, when I’m gone, and hopefully Auggie and Ebba will be much older than I am today when that happens- but I hope that they will be out in their garden, and be in a time and space where they quietly notice and remember me for just being me- the good, the bad, the funny, and the weird. Just the way I remember my mother today.
One of the greatest things you can leave behind is the memory that you were wholly and completely yourself in this life, because those moments of connection are not only for you while you are living, but will continue to bring connection for others, long after we are gone.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. But the connection is possible, and in that, we carry on.