Gleaning Gifts of a Dream

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Last night I was a moody but confident, passionate but restrained, weary but adventurous sixteen year old again. I was talking to a roomful of people from high school. We had played together in each other’s yards and attended public schools together for many years. My mother was at my shoulder and noted one young man in particular and said something about an event that had occurred. I reminded her I had figure skated with him although he was a far better speed skater.  A sweet affinity was shared with the boy with the honeyed voice; we cozied up on the couch.

I stepped back and examined myself: auburn-brown hair touched with gold, bangs falling over one eyebrow, blue eyes peering out. The style was a modified style based on Twiggy’s, that famous beanpole model from the sixties. I had more curve and muscle. My skin was pale, smooth, softer than seemed reasonable. A smile swept over my face, light and breezy. It was good to be there that moment.

Then the scream of the alarm grabbed me from my dream with such force it felt like being pulled from deep waters–but I didn’t need or want to be rescued. I fell back. The dream arose once more, replete with familiar faces, voices entwined in easy conversation. The contours of living and dining rooms came alive; shadows shifted as bodies rearranged themselves. I sensed food being prepared in the kitchen: a party underway.

My childhood home, a sturdy yellow and turquoise bungalow. I crossed over the foyer, lingered by the baby grand piano, admired the dining table set with flowers. I glanced at the buffet which held a stack of mail, colored glassware, another vase with bright flowers. Music issued from the stereo, something I could not quite define. Was it classical? Did my gentle, dignified father put that on even though I wanted Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez? Then the den (a bedroom in earlier years), television room where a TV did not exist before 1963 because there was no time for it, no interest, really. There was always something else to do; my family got engaged in whatever required attention most. Usually music-making or studying.

Upstairs, two good-sized bedrooms and a bath. I paused on the landing, stared a long moment, then eased my way down. I sat on the third from bottom step. This was the best vantage point for many years, the place that was central to all first floor activities. I could hear most conversations, construct the scenes. It was the place from which I first discerned the fabulous, puzzling adult world. A spot where I used to cry without drawing attention, make a playground for a Barbie, and years later wait for the telephone to be free so I could talk with my best friend or maybe, surreptitiously, a boy. Where all five children waited for the door to be opened to Christmas wonders. I could nearly smell cinnamon rolls and sausage.

Out of some interior space floated my name, the nickname of my childhood. I entered the bright living room. My mother’s laughter became more quiet, then faded away. I glimpsed her fine-lined face haloed by the famous silvery white hair. The room remained filled with those I have known and nearly forgotten but no one is in a hurry. I wondered how long we would stay in this golden place.

Soon crows make a ruckus that punctuates city traffic. I sit up quickly, my eyes not yet seeing, my mind cloaked in secret things, unworldly things. Thin light is caught inside corners of the bedroom and so defines angles as I find my way back to this spot in time. I see the blue differently and realize for the first time it is the blue of my childhood room, before it was lavender. My heart is a cocoon of peace.

I can hear my youngest daughter’s voice. Laughter as she packs up to return to grad school. Her fiancé is washing up a few dishes as they talk.

After greetings and coffee, we pour over a bridal magazine and I know this is going to happen; she is getting married. And I want to tell her: “Grandma came to visit me. She misses you and longs to be at your wedding.”

Instead–there is not time for the tears that will find us–I tell her, “I had a dream of being sixteen. My face was open and so young, soft. There were many people at your grandparents’ house. It was lovely…”

I was married once in a chapel, the first time. I was more than a decade younger than this daughter and choices did not include quite finishing college. I was in love and unprepared, before much understanding was captured from life’s wily snares. I had ached to be wise, braver than brave as a youth, then as a young woman. But now I am a woman surrendering little by little to this ebb and flow of life, growing older. It is not arduous. Much like my mother was, I am filled with relentless curiosity, hope tinged with bittersweet yearnings and a reservoir of love that wants to transform discouragement and pain as well as celebrate triumph. All with a tale and an embrace, duly witnessing and making note of life in all its cantankerous and exceptional fullness.

I take a picture of my daughter and future son-in-law and there are my mother’s grey-blue eyes. Her crooked, sweet smile. Think: Well, here we are, Mom. This and much (you know how much) more to come.

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River’s Edge

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(“Serenity”. Photo credit given to  Martha Weintraub)

At river’s edge she watched them cavort like young pups, but they were nearly men, were actually men if she was honest about it, grown faster than the eye could see, soon off to other parts of the world. It was sweet to her eyes and ears. They had seen hard times. Motherless, then fatherless, but she had held them close and let them roam as needed. Or, she tried to do right. One never knew for sure. Things could end up far differently that she imagined. They might forget her, not her face, some of the better times, but forget HER, who she was and remained: grandmother but still a person with her own peculiarities, ideas. Mostly, love that knew no end. It was what she could do best she had decided when they had been left with her. But life had a way of blurring itself with each new experience.

Today, though, today. The river was brilliant. Green, full of living things. Gentled for once. The boys submerged themselves and then torpedoed out the surface, pushing and laughing. Making a scene for the nonchalant girls on the other side of the bushes. She smiled, swatted a bee away. If she sat here long enough she could see her whole life unfold, see her late husband float past on his homemade raft, his hand extended. She had been sixteen, reckless enough to take a chance and climb up and ride downriver with him. Good thing. The man and the river were both reprieves she needed. Still did. But life turned around a few times, and she carried on with it.

In time the boys would stumble onto the bank and sprawl out around her. They might wrap their arms around her and then she would shake them off, fuss about getting wet, laughing when they kissed her wrinkled cheek, and this, too, would lodge itself in her mind. Come one chill autumn or simmering summer day, she would pack up a sandwich and her folding chair and come right here. Even winter called her to the water’s edge with its mysterious ice soundings, its sleeping power. She would sit and wonder over every bit of it, her charges, the joys and little deaths that happened with human urges and dreams. There were worse losses, too. She lately felt the smallness of it all. It might feel like something more one day, or different, but she would savor it as the river talked back to her, carrying its own life past another spot with a different gathering, right into more days and nights. Never a brave swimmer, she stayed at the edge. The river knew what was needed no matter what was going on.

(This blog post was a response to Patricia McNair’s  6/28/13 blog writing prompt. It has been revised from the original.)