This evening we would have calling hours. The house was quiet when I woke. Ethel Mae and Jon were already out making arrangements and Dad was keeping busy outside or in the barn somewhere. I looked out the window to see large flakes of snow starting to cover the green lawn with a coat of slush. Snow makes me instantly irritated. I can admit snow is pretty but it loses its magic after years of cold discomfort, incessant shoveling, slick ice, fishtailing in the middle of intersections, salt encrusted clothes and many a dark night when the heat fails.
The mood in the house was as expected. In trying to keep his mind off the day, Dad went to the woods with the tractor only for it quit. That kept him busy for sure but wasn’t the distraction I imagine he hoped for. He returned to the woods to deal with that while Annie and I tried relaxing next to the woodstove with a cup of coffee and my notebook.
After awhile, Dad returned victorious but still too agitated to sit, he took Annie to the barn probably to pace. She didn’t stay long. I think Dad might have been in too intense a mood for her that morning. I found her scratching at the door a few minutes later. When I opened the door, she didn’t come in. She just sat there, slumped over and looked up at me with large sorrowful eyes. I think the reality of the situation finally hit her.
I got her inside and started throwing the ball around, trying to bring up her spirits. She retrieved the ball a couple of times but she wasn’t tearing up the rug to get to it. On her last grab, she whirled around to bring the ball back but she stopped quick. She wasn’t looking at me but very intently about three feet to my right and a bit behind me. Her eyesight isn’t great so I searched to see what might be moving there but there wasn’t anything I could even remotely guess would grab her interest like that. I let her sit with that for a minute, once in awhile waving at her to see if her attention would come towards my movement. I had my own speculations as to what or who she might be encountering so I gave her the time to have that moment. I just stood there, staring at the empty spot Annie found so interesting, jealous that I wasn’t as receptive as her.
The calling hours were beautiful. I’ve been to quite a few and there wasn’t anything depressing besides the situation. The room was warm and brightly lit, heavy with the fragrance of lilies. The slide show of photos chronicling her life was captivating as it played just above the carved rustic box that honored Sally’s remains encircled by a wall of colorful flowers and sentiments. Despite the cold, dismal rain, there was a large turnout as would be expected. I really enjoyed being able to see some of the people from my past and even more glad to see the huge amount of friends that came out to support my father. For being so reserved, he certainly has gained the love and respect of a large group of people.
Afterward, Dad, myself and some of Sally’s family decided to take the edge off with a few drinks at the pub across the road. The table was covered with onion rings, fries, steaks, salads and many empty glasses. Step one of the formalities was finished and there was a little sigh of relief.
The memorial service the next morning started just before noon. I felt fairly numb still but that ended when the young woman opened the service playing Stevie Nick’s, “Landslide.” It was a rather ironic selection as that is the song I likely would’ve chosen to play at my mother’s funeral. She even asked me later if that was a decision I had made given the significance for us.
Uncle Russell officiated the service. You could tell he had quite a bit of experience with these occasions; he had a wonderfully sentimental and heartwarming but generally philosophical tone to his speech that I found refreshing. Dad and I sat at the far end of the first row, well stocked with tissues just in case either of us sprang an uncontrollable leak. Dad’s face was pretty red and his bright ice blue eyes swelled and dripped gracefully. I really only lost my composure, once for a quick moment, when Sally’s best friend, Susan, addressed Dad directly at the end of her speech, “I know she wanted to spend the rest of her life with you.” I couldn’t help it at that point; my face tensed up swallowing my eyes with a hot teary frown.
A few more people got up to share their experiences before we retired to the fire hall next door to have lunch together. Sally would’ve been very happy to see all her loved ones spending time together talking and laughing and carrying on like you do. Dad and I sat with his mother and sisters; my mother sat on the other side of them. I think we were all feeling quite drained but we managed a few more minutes socializing before we headed over to the pub again for a few concluding celebratory drinks.
Dad and I really didn’t know what do with ourselves when we got home. All the formalities were finished but the process of grieving still lingered. We both automatically starting pacing. I wasn’t in the mood for anything remotely productive so we spent the rest of the evening numbing ourselves with television. We planned to watch a movie but Dad just turned the TV to the first movie station; we watched the rest of whatever movie was on and he’d turn to the next movie station and so forth. So we saw maybe half of five movies. That was all we were prepared to handle.
The next day, I woke to find Dad returned triumphantly from his morning hunting routine. Shortly after, we went to Grandma’s for lunch and to have some time with Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Charles. We got there just as they were headed on a walk so we tagged along. It was still quite cold and drizzling when we got to the edge of the pond where Sylvia and Joanne own a splinter of undeveloped land. We strolled along the road a bit further as they informed each other of the neighbor’s activities. On the way back, we happened to encounter the infamous three white ducks and I thought of just how appropriately absurd that felt at the moment. After some gumbo, pumpkin roll, and a good soak in front of the fire with Annie, we headed home. My friend, Jeanne, would be driving in from Vermont any minute.
It had been over a year since I left her in Vermont and I was ecstatic that when I called her in distress a week before that she was willing to drive the five hours to come visit me. We wouldn’t even get a full day together but it didn’t matter. I knew if I wanted support, she wouldn’t hesitate to load her car up with wine and popcorn fixings and be on the way. That’s exactly what happened.
That evening, shortly after Jeanne arrived, Dad went out to meet Sally’s family for one last dinner before they all started heading home. I had a few hours to enjoy my friend. We cracked open the box of wine practically immediately and after catching up a little went for a quick walk to the barn. That might be the only time 2 wine glasses have ever set stems down in that barn. I really just needed a walk and Dad had a couple woodworking projects in the shop that I thought would interest her. So we headed down there with intention but got pretty quickly sidelined by a different scene, a decent sized buck Dad killed that morning was strung up next to the lawnmower which happened to be temporarily inhabited by his semi-feral barn cats.
It was time for some food so we headed back to the house and started making what we thought would be the largest batch of popcorn we’d ever made. I have no problem admitting my intense weakness for popcorn, especially the way Jeanne makes it, so she knew we’d have to make it in bulk proportions. Dad gave us the largest kettle he had and it turned out to be a bit too overboard which only made the whole event even more hilarious. Jeanne ended up having to dig out the kernels and use a smaller pot. I took pictures to document our bonding moment which I include despite the distaste Jeanne has for having her photo taken and even more distaste for it being publicized. I think it’s fabulous and hopefully she won’t hate me too much for requiring to share it with everyone.
I deeply appreciated the few hours we got to spend together, gorging ourselves on wine and popcorn and simmering in the hot tub. Through all the experiences of the past few days, it felt extremely comforting.
It was even more strange to have my high school friend, Megan, in town at the same time. She came over in the morning to meet Jeanne. To have two best friends from different parts of my life together was quite a surreal experience. I more than welcomed the distraction and that we all got along so well as to laugh like we’d all been friends from the beginning was pretty amazing. My time in New York was just starting to bring my life full circle.