Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Grape Hyacinths


Many years ago, shortly after my brother built his house, he cleared a bunch of rocks that peppered the old tomato field that was now his yard. He brought some of them to our house, where we added them to our rock gardens and used them to ring the cherry trees I had planted. Some soil came along with the rocks, and some grape hyacinth bulbs came with the soil. Grape hyacinths soon popped up around the cherry trees.

For years I have intended to dig up a few of the bulbs (along with some daffodils and irises) to transfer to the cemetery. I haven't done that for various reasons, most recently the proliferation of crocuses at our gravesite - I don't want to kill or disrupt them. The crocuses began to bloom in early March, shortly after my mother's funeral on March 2nd, and the last ones faded after the first week of April. After the crocus flowers fade, the crocuses will throw up long, thin leaves to absorb sunlight to build up energy for next year's bloom. 

I wanted to decorate the gravesite for Easter. I didn't want to do anything excessive, so I decided to pick up some artificial flowers at a dollar store. (The quality of dollar store flowers has become remarkable in recent years.) I tucked a few centered on each side of our tombstone, careful not to puncture the crocus corms. I spread them out so they overlapped the crocus leaves on either side of them. This turned out to be a good thing.

A week or so ago I noticed several grape hyacinths growing at the base of the tree near our grave. I considered transplanting one or two over to the soil around our grave, but decided against it. Later I spotted one growing on its own near the tombstone.

Monday morning I had to run an errand in Wilkes-Barre. The return trip took me past the cemetery, so I swung in for a visit.  I saw groundskeeping crews at work mowing the grass - the first time this season. As I approached our grave, I saw that they had also been to work with weed whackers, dutifully destroying all of the crocus leaves except the ones shielded by my artificial flowers. They had also trimmed the grape hyacinth near the stone to the ground, leaving shredded purplish-blue flowers to show where it had once been. 

But they had left the ones by the tree. That was something. So maybe those will spread and grow and gradually fill in the empty spots around the gravestone.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The last shopping list

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 - when people who were paying attention knew what was happening, a few weeks before the official announcement of a pandemic - I went grocery shopping. Already we were seeing shocking footage from Australia and the UK of empty shelves that should have held toilet paper and paper towels, of people fighting over the last available packages. I tried to protect myself with a scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose and plastic gloves on my hands. Somehow I managed to sweat right through my gloves and saturate and destroy the paper shopping list I had thrown together. I knew something sturdier would be needed. I took the cardboard liners from cases of cat food, cut them into strips about 2.5" by 6", and used them to write my shopping lists. I found they were sturdier and harder to lose than scraps of paper, and realized that this little innovation was something that might outlive the pandemic.

Shopping lists are the very definition of ephemera, artifacts never intended to outlive their use. But here and there I have shopping lists written long ago, by my grandmother (who listed I Can't Believe It's Not Butter as an item, meticulously written out without any attempt at abbreviation) and my mother (her handwriting crabbed and difficult to read even years ago.) I even come across the occasional shopping list written by me that has escaped the garbage can or recycling bin. Some are meaningless and generic, but others evoke memories of specific purpose-driven shopping trips.

My mom came home from the rehab center, briefly, on February 3rd. I had spent over a month living alone with the cats since her leg broke on December 27th, and knew I needed to restock supplies for her. She had developed a taste for the salads and jello being provided by the rehab center, and I knew I had to get the ingredients to recreate them. This is my shopping list from February 2nd, a shopping trip I went on immediately after leaving the rehab center.

The Jergens (small) was a gift for one of the nurses who cared for her. My mom (like me) had Winter-dried skin that needed a generous application of moisturizer. When she was at home I was the one who applied her cherry-almond scented Jergens moisturizer to the dry spots on her back. While she was at the rehab center that task fell to her nurses. One of the nurses fell in love with the Jergens, and asked if she could stop by to put it on her chapped hands throughout the day. My mom asked me to get the nurse a small bottle of Jergens she could keep as a parting gift.

The CAKE listed at the bottom, separated from the rest of the list by a line, was the "Welcome Home" cake I had ordered from Sanitary Bakery, a cake that served the dual purpose of celebrating her return home and to substitute for my missed birthday cake from a week before.

She would be whisked out of the house the following Wednesday by an unmasked ambulance crew after she fell and lightly struck her head. On that ambulance ride she almost certainly contracted the COVID that would incubate over the next few days, bring about a positive test the following Monday, and give her a stroke on Valentine's Day morning. She never recovered from the stroke and died on the 24th.

But I still have that shopping list, with the last groceries I would ever buy for her.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

March, the month of crocuses

It has been one month today since we buried my mom. It seems like an eternity and no time at all. The house seems much emptier this past month, even though she had only been here for five days and part of a sixth since December 27. But now we - the cats and I - know that she is never coming back.

I have a job that has me talking on the phone for eight hours each day. I work from home four days each week. The cats all like to gather around to listen to my voice. When I'm not on the phone, I am almost only talking to the cats. Most often I say, over and over again, "Mama loves you. Mama loves all of us."

I go to the cemetery roughly every other day. I stopped there yesterday, The crocuses are mostly spent, at least on the sunny side of the tombstone. On the shady side some white and purple crocuses have only recently come into bloom. I never remember crocuses blooming like this, but I have never spent so much time at the cemetery before. The crocuses were only starting to break the soil when my mother was buried. They didn't really go into full bloom until the third week of March, and then faded at the end of the month, except for these late bloomers.

White and purple crocuses just coming into bloom, April 1, 2023. The flower heads on the right are the clipped-off heads from the bouquets we had placed here after the funeral. After all danger of frost has passed, I need to stop by and gently scrub off the lichen that has attached itself to our marker.

In keeping with Catholic tradition, I have been abstaining from meat each Friday during Lent. This past Friday I decided to make salmon cakes: one can of Chicken of the Sea pink salmon (including liquid), one large onion chopped up fine, salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, oatmeal (about one cup), two eggs. For the oatmeal I used my mom's minute oats, which tend to dissolve - something beneficial for this recipe. I mixed everything with my hands, kneading the ingredients into a smooth paste, and set it aside to rest for a few minutes. I heated some olive oil in a pan at medium heat. I rolled the salmon into two inch balls, flattened them slightly, and then cooked them for about ten minutes on each side. I was a little more generous with the salt and pepper than I had been with the meatballs, and was especially heavy-handed with the Old Bay, perhaps too much so. I don't know if my mom would have approved of the final product - she was not a fan of seasoning - but these were probably the best salmon cakes I have ever made. Next time I may use a little less Old Bay.