I saw my mother the other day, despite the fact that she went to Heaven 20 years ago.
There was a pretty, intense and somewhat frazzled young mother holding hands with a handful of a little boy. He wanted to cross the busy street, and were it not for the grip she had on him, the little fellow would have darted into traffic. As it was, he ended up almost comically swinging up, then backwards, as his mom lifted his fast-moving feet off the ground and back to safety.
She was dressed a little nicer than most ladies of that age who have to deal with a rambunctious little boy. By today’s standards she was downright dressed up for being downtown in the middle of the week. The mother and son made for a pretty picture on a springlike winter’s day.
I can just about guarantee Miss Lois did the exact same thing with me a half-dozen or more times when I was that age, on other streets in other busy downtowns, and she too, would have been dressed a little better than necessary, just because that was Miss Lois.
I saw my mother another day in the excitement of a friend who is an incredible artist, and still learning to come out of her shell of shyness. She made a special trip to share some of her work with me, work that I now treasure. Bess has an eye and a hand for nature, and made several prints to help Miss Rhonda identify some of the birds that we help each year. They are art, yes, but useful art. It was the kind of thoughtful thing Miss Lois did when she could, giving someone a gift that was practical while still pretty, and most importantly, made with her own hands.
Speaking of baby birds and things, I see Miss Lois every morning at breakfast when my bride begins moving around and every animal in the house – puppies, kittens, the bottle goat, the wild things that overwintered – begins celebrating and clamoring for attention in the form of food. Like my mother, Rhonda can perform innumerable tasks with a puppy on one arm, and somehow get it all done. She came by some of it naturally, I think, and learned from her own mother, but she learned some of it from Miss Lois as well.
As I have noted before, a grade school teacher turned my eyes to the sky, and taught me a love of the stars, planets, meteors and constellations. Cliché as it may sound, I see my mother in the night sky right often; not because she was an avid astronomer but because on those rare occasions she had time to come outside with her youngest son in the evening, she saw the beauty in a starlit sky without needing to know the names of more than one or two of the constellations. I disremember why we were out one evening when the Perseids were flying, but she was as overjoyed as a small child when she saw several meteors in a row.
Miss Lois could find and appreciate beauty in the simplest things. That’s a skill I wish we had more of these days, when filters and AI and who knows what all is used to try to improve God’s handiwork.
I was working on this column the other day when I simply had to have an afternoon cup of coffee. One of my standby places can always be counted on in such circumstances, and while I was waiting I saw my mother yet again, in both the young ladies working behind the counter, doing what was necessary to keep the family fed. In a way I could see either of them working beside a much younger version of Miss Lois, slinging doughnuts and coffee in Washington City during the war – with an antique hatpin handy in case of unwanted male advances.
Miss Lois loved all things green and growing. I see my mother in the irises that have started rising along our driveway, and the jonquils and daffodils scattered here and there along ditchbanks and walkways to houses long since fallen and forgotten. I’ll see her when the rose of Sharons and the fairy bells along our ditch bloom, and I’ll see her in the grapes and blackberries foraged from wild vines and eaten on the spot.
I see her when I hear my great-niece’s voice ringing out in an operatic aria, and I wish Miss Lois could have heard and seen Lauren perform. I see her when the child I call my adopted granddaughter runs with my dogs, chasing goats, geese and fairies, throwing skirtfulls of dirt into the air to create magic smoke. Indeed, were Miss Lois around and able, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see her joining in the fun, and chasing a goat or two herself.
I see Miss Lois when I slide a hand under a setting hen to steal an egg, as she taught me, or when I extend a flat palm out, fingers angling down, with a treat for a nervous horse. I see her when a child proudly shows me a piece of artwork, and presents it to me as a gift.
Sometimes it seems I see her in a hundred ways in a day.
It’s funny, but in my mind I rarely see her in those last hard couple of years after my father died, when she could finally quit being strong for him, and she reluctantly gave in to the betrayal of her own body and mind. Sometimes I can see her in my sister Becky, in the love she had for her husband Gil, the same love Mother had for the Old Man. I see the same pain in Becky’s eyes, too, the pain of losing a soulmate, when God’s timing and ours just don’t coincide.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and see in my own eyes the determined anger in her face as she fought death to the last moment on that cold Valentine’s Day when she went home, fighting the long sleep with the same ferocity she fought a wildfire as a little girl or fought to save an arts center in her adopted hometown or fought to save a sick puppy.
John the Divine’s description of Heaven paints a picture of pearly gates, walls of jasper and golden streets; I think after I pass through those gates, I’ll make a turn off the paved road beside a mailbox surmounted with flowers, and pull onto a long rutted dirt drive.
The horses I’ve known and loved will race the truck to an old comfortable house with a wide porch, situated just so under friendly shade trees. There will be dogs dancing and barking a greeting, chickens and geese scattering every which way, and cats looking disgusted from fence posts. There will be beds of flowers that never stop blooming, surrounded by soft grass that never needs mowing.
And waiting on the porch, in a comfortable rocking chair, maybe dressed just a little better than necessary, she’ll be sitting there with the Old Man, waving a greeting and welcoming me home.