Last week, Florian and I took my dad up to my parents old house in the Adirondacks to get some of my parents' belongings, do some cleaning, and meet with a realtor.
I'd been dreading this trip for a while. The memories, the sense of absence, most of all the necessity of letting go. This was where my parents took me every summer until I moved out, the site of many a family hike to a swimming hole, many a summer trip into town to do laundry, many an afternoon playing with salamanders and frogs or building a little house out of tongue depressors with Uncle Johnny.
How exactly does one let go of all that?
I am not sure. I do know that most adults who outlive their parents have to do it, and that it's a struggle for many.
Memories are so alive in a place. Being there, in the hot, sunny air, the silence, the stillness, it could have been 33 years ago and my mom could have been up in her garden on the hill, puttering, planting, harvesting lettuce and zucchini like she did every morning.
There's a feeling of timelessness, of dropping into an immediate and preverbal place of connection.
Like time, encompassing the safety and satiety of childhood as well as all the intervening years of leaving home, finding my way through boyfriends, jobs, mortgages, heartache and success, is a seamless fabric that still includes all those things.
That I can wrap around myself and touch each moment.
And there really is no separation between now, when I have my own house and family and responsibilities, which include taking care of my own "kids" and my Dad,
and back then, when everything was taken care of.
The flowers my mom planted are still blooming and happy,
and the brook is rushing, clean, and the water surprisingly warm as it always was in a rainy year in the summer.
Uncle Johnny's log cabin down the road, that he built with his own two hands when I was growing up,
then sold when he realized he was a city boy and could never live in the remoteness of the Bleecker Road, looks well-cared for and happily lived in.
The "chicken coop" that my teenage brothers tried to sleep in one night, but came running back to their bunk beds in the main house as soon as the owls started hooting and the bats started flitting about, collapsed years ago.
The ruins remain, and the Keep Out sign I got for my Dad when he was using the coop as a writers retreat one summer, keeps its ironic vigil.
The house, with its wood paneling installed when my parents had the incompetent but honest, and somewhat endearing, George Battiste build the upstairs addition when I was about 12,
still has that pleasant, comforting smell, woodsy with a touch of mildew.
The couch that Lamar always loved is still there, and he still loves it.
There was pain in remembering, and in feeling the absence of my mom, but I guess I hadn't realized that there would also be joy. In going through my mom's things, cleaning, organizing like she would have wanted me to. Loving the place and honoring my mom's love for it.
Major mood boosters were of course Fozzie, who though tuned in to his humans' emotions was even more tuned in to the opportunity presented by a frisbee and a large open space,
And Florian, who took time out from helping go through things to practice some ballet
but found that an Arabesque is much harder to execute flawlessly when Fozzie is humping your leg.
Our last night, there was a thunderstorm like my Mom always loved. A Bleecker Whirlagig, where the storm circles around and keeps coming back.
As Fozzie panted and drooled, I couldn't help but feel even more connected to her
and feel happy, as she would have been, that all her plants were getting watered and that the froggies would have lots of places to swim.
Yesterday it was exactly a year since the last day I saw my mom, leaning in the hallway of the sweltering city apartment as Florian and I left, wearing a blue and white shirt that brought out the blue in her eyes.
Feeling pulled to stay with her but hearing her reassure me that she'd be fine, and anyway she'd be joining us in Maryland in less than two weeks.
I return from our trip now feeling more at peace than maybe any time since then, knowing that I took care of the house she loved, and in so doing took care of her as she always took care of me.