Saturday, June 25, 2011

1001 Reasons, Part Five

This list’s thankfulness theme is a person, and everything about her for which I am thankful. Her name was Christine. On June 13, 2008, she went home to her Father. She was 63 years old and had been fighting an unknown lung disease for two years.

81. She ran a daycare for years, as long as I knew her, entirely alone. She babysat an average of, what? 10? kids every day. All day. Alone. Into her fifties. And they were always well behaved. It was never chaos. Which is even more remarkable when you take note of the fact that I was one of those kids.

82. When I was little she middle-named me more than my mom did. “Brittany Ann!”

83. She made absolutely the best macaroni, homemade, ever.

84. She woke up every Christmas morning at five a.m. to make breakfast for all of us. And I mean a smorgasbord. Pastries, coffee, juice, cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon, all of it. She had to, for all of us. There was never less than eleven people at Christmas.

85. She took me to a flea market when I was five on our way back from Disneyland the first time. She’d just bought me a teaset that morning. A miniature one, really cute. For my barbies. But then I saw those blue and pink ones – a full-sized teapot and sugar bowl set. Porcelain. Ribbons and gold and a picture of flowers on the front. Now I think they’re the most god-awful decorations ever made, but she only bought them for me because I promised not to break them. It’s been almost eighteen years and I’m not going to get rid of them now, not after I managed to keep them in one piece for so long. I made her proud.

86. She used to promise me little presents for little accomplishments. I managed to keep my room reasonably clean for a week and I got that Barbie I wanted so bad. I got a B in math and she bought me the jewelry box that was on my shelf for such a long time.

87. When I was in kindergarten she came to pick me up after school and I was really excited. I ran and jumped into her arms. And I was all ready to go home with her. But then I remembered how if anyone other than Mom, Dad, or Christy came to pick me up, I was supposed to ask them the password. And so I asked. And she told me – “bowling ball.” She was just testing me to make sure I would remember that little trick. She gave me a piece of gum as a reward.

88. At my wedding she dressed all in green. She called beforehand to be sure that her outfit matched the color scheme.

89. Whenever we went to visit her in Reedsport I’d watch for that big pole on the hill that meant we were just a few minutes away from the house, and then I’d yell, “We’re in Reedsport!”

90. That last year at Christmas, I made her something special. I stitched a pillow with her wedding monogram on it. I really expected it to pass up whatever she got me, not that I cared. But she completely outdid herself this year. She only got me two presents, a record low as far as numbers were concerned. But the first was a wall ornament made of metal callas. How did she even know I love callas so much? I only had a couple of them at the wedding and she’d never been to my house to see all the calla decorations. I asked her and she just said she knew. She picked up on it somewhere. The second gift was a ring my grandpa gave to her thirty years ago. It’s her trademark style – several little diamonds and dark sapphires in a huge setting. Honestly, I never liked her taste in jewelry. And yet this ring is so beautiful. She said she wants it to stay in our family. If I have a daughter, I’m supposed to give it to her. Which I will. If there isn’t a baby girl in my future, then my son will get it and give it to his wife or daughter.

91. You know, it’s ironic. Biologically, she’s not my grandma. My dad adopted me. Legally, she’s my grandma. But she would have had every right – especially when she met me, before I was legally a Wolfe, to say, “That’s not my granddaughter. I don’t have a granddaughter. My son married a woman who already had a child. If anything, she’s my stepgranddaughter.” But she immediately accepted me, and so did everyone else in that family. It never occurred to me until I was late into my teens – “Hey, you know what? I share no genetic link at all with these people.” Weird.

92. After my parents divorced, my mom moved to Reedsport to be near her. Her former in-law. It was a big deal in pop culture when Jennifer Aniston stayed in touch with Brad Pitt’s mom after the divorce, remember? Well what if Jennifer Aniston had kids, and moved closer to Brad Pitt’s mom so she could babysit? That’s what my mom and my grandma did. And my grandma babysat, every day, starting at just about five a.m. And picked us up after school and kept us so that my mom could work. My dad wasn’t even okay with my mom’s new career, and my grandma kept us kids to accommodate it.

93. When she was dying, my grandpa said this, not knowing I was listening:
“I told God,
‘Lord, this is so hard.’
And He told me,
‘I know. I had to do it to My Son.’
So I replied,
‘But it was easier for You, God, because You were planning on resurrecting Him.’
God said:
‘You don’t think I’ll do the same for your wife?’”

94. She doesn’t know – or maybe she does – but she named me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Little Things (excerpt)

Stacie was ten years old to the day when she lost her Mama. Cole was putting her to sleep, because Mama was out dancing with Dan, her new boyfriend.
“I like him,” she said.
“Dan? Why?” Cole asked.
“He got me a birthday present.” She held out the wooden boy and girl dolls he’d carved for her.
“That doesn’t make him your dad.”
“I know it doesn’t,” Stacie said, hurt. “I love Vince the most.” It was true, too: Vince was a constant, even if the only constant thing about him was inconsistency. But Mama’s boyfriends were always exciting. Gerald was a fisherman, and he’d taught Stacie about poles and types of fish and how to refresh the salt in a rubber bait by massaging it in her palms. Rex was an artist – he drew pictures of Stacie and let her splash them with watercolors to give to Mama for Mother’s Day. Dan was a woodworker, and he made her presents, and that was nice, too.
“Good night,” Cole said, and Stacie knew he didn’t want to talk anymore.
A few minutes later she was awake; the sky had turned dark very fast and there was a gentle rapping at the door. Cole was climbing out of bed, and she realized it hadn’t been a few minutes at all, but a few hours. She sat up.
“What’s that, Cole?” she muttered, rubbing her eyes.
“Stay there,” he said.
Stacie leaned back into her pillow and petted her stuffed bear, Jimmy, a gift from Vince. But as soon as Cole made it out of the room, she slid out of her bed and padded over to the bedroom door. Clutching Jimmy to her chest, she stuck her nose in between the slightly open door and the wall and she eavesdropped, even though Mama had told her not to.
“Who is it?” Cole asked loudly, without opening the door.
There was a short, muffled answer. Stacie thought she heard the word ‘police.’
“What are you doing here, then? We’re not doing anything wrong,” Cole answered, on edge as always. Stacie thought maybe if it was the police, he should let them in. Maybe they were here to protect them from something. Maybe there was a burglar running around outside. In fact, maybe he had a gun pointed at the policeman and he needed to come inside for cover. Anxious, she stepped into the hallway. The policeman was answering, and she still couldn’t understand what he said, but she heard the door creaking open and breathed a sigh of relief for him.
“What do you want?” Cole snapped.
“Can I please come in, son?” Stacie tiptoed closer so she could see the policeman.
Cole sighed obnoxiously so he wouldn’t think he was welcome – he did that a lot – and pushed the door aside to make room.
“Thanks.” Stacie thought he glanced over to where she was, just barely visible, and she breathed in softly as she tried to hide a little better.
“My name is Officer Dixon. What’s yours?”
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Cole. Is anyone else here?” he asked.
“My sister is sleeping.”
“Okay. I want to ask you some questions, if that’s alright.”
Cole didn’t answer. Officer Dixon didn’t seem to mind.
“What’s your mother’s name?”
“And her last name?”
“Do you know where she is?”
Cole answered fast: “She went out with her boyfriend Dan. She was supposed to be home sooner than this. She’s always home on time, though. I’m sure she has a good reason. Mama takes good care of us.”
“I’m sure she does, Son,” Officer Dixon answered. “That’s not why I’m here, although I like to see a boy so devoted to his mother.” He breathed in hard. “Do you mind if we wake up your sister now?”
Stacie started, pattered back to her bed as fast as she could go, and closed her eyes. When Cole came in a few moments later, she stretched as though she’d been asleep, but she didn’t think he bought it. She followed him to the living room, hanging her head.
“This is Officer Dixon,” Cole said, gesturing.
“Very nice to meet you,” the officer said. “What’s your name?”
“Stacie.” Her voice was small next to the policeman’s.
“Well, Stacie. Cole.” Stacie could hear his breath mingling with his words as he paused. “This is the worst part of my job. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your mother was in a car accident tonight. Both she and her boyfriend were killed.”
Stacie felt as though she’d been punched in the head.
“What?” Cole was shouting. He stood up. “You’re lying to us!” he said. “My mama is coming home! She’s just late, that’s all!”
Stacie was still trying to get her head back on straight. She shook it.
“Don’t you listen to him, Stacie Mae,” Cole went on. “Don’t you hear a word of it!”
Officer Dixon looked like he might cry. Stacie wondered if he had known her mama.
Cole got louder. “You’re trying to take us from Mama! You’re just making this up so we’ll go with you! I won’t go!” He folded himself up into a creaky old recliner, as if trying to latch himself to the house. Stacie wondered why he was doing it; she thought he just looked easier to pick up and carry out, a parcel of a person. He was silent now, except for heavy breathing.
“It’s my birthday,” Stacie said. Officer Dixon pressed his lips together.
“What’s your dad’s name?”
“Vince,” she answered, glad that they would get to see him. He’d make her feel better.
“We don’t have a dad,” Cole corrected, sitting upright. “Vince is just a friend of ours. Stacie is confused.” He shot her the same look he did the time she told Mama that his best friend Matt had smoked a cigarette.
Officer Dixon narrowed his eyes. “What’s Vince’s last name?”
Stacie felt her pulse in her throat, throbbing. “I don’t remember,” she said.
“You can check our birth certificates,” Cole pressed. “It’s just Mama.”
Stacie watched the floor, ashamed of her mistake. Her head began to pound.