How's the weather in Heaven? And the food? By all reports, it must be heavenly.
It's raining again in Pennsylvania. Yep, Pennsylvania. This is finally home, but it's the kind of "home" that feels like a houseboat drifting out to sea to find its way back to the life we shared. The ocean also resides in another state and I am landlocked in green. The rain makes it exceptionally green here, but there are days when the green can be so intense it's like I'm trapped in a field of Irish clover, desperately searching for that magical 4-leafed one to bring you back to my side. If only I could meet you in the middle and see your arms pop through that bright green fence to your heaven.
When I was in grade school I used to read about this historic farming state where the Amish refused to keep step with time. It was exotic compared to bell-bottoms in dry, brown Southern California on the opposite side of the map. It might as well be on the moon, I thought. I'd never step inside that flat, narrow rectangle stamped on the classroom map. I pictured that distant parallelogram covered in endless rows of corn and wheat, Amish farmers dressed in black and suspenders, holding the reins of their horses plowing through lush green fields. It's less like a parallelogram now and more like a parallel universe -- and I'm living this "other" life in a place where you never existed.
Remember when you used canned mushrooms for your sauce in California because there were no fresh ones at the commissary? And if there were, they were too expensive? Well, they grow mushrooms in this flat Pennsylvanian town by the millions. I'd bring you wheelbarrows full and maybe you could finally can your lasagna sauce. We'd make a fortune, and I'd get you a cottage across the road on the hay farm, just down the way from our very own mushroom farm.
* * *
I'm talking to myself. Looping through a one-way conversation with a ghost who once sat beside me on Sunday nights, laughing her way through a dinner she could hardly taste.
"See you next Sunday, Mom," I'd say to her, after letting go of her velvety arms. "Okay, sweetheart," she'd say, her voice fading behind me as I walk away. "I'll see you then."
* * *
I open up my notebook and you fall out. We are in California and it's Sunday night. You're wearing a velvety teal-green top and in the middle of an unfinished laugh. I'm smiling Dad's smile, my jowls and chin locked inside his face. We both have short hair which is rare. Yours is sprayed with extra hold, mine is fuzzy and twisting around my ears. I have cleaned my plate, but yours is half finished. There are red streaks across the dishes, and I think it's your lasagna we've been eating. Your champagne flute looks like it's filled with Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. The sweetness of it, you could still taste. You've barely taken a sip, though, and I know it's because you've been talking while the rest of us are inhaling your lasagna. Food is getting harder and harder for you to chew, and you've left the salad behind to focus on the lasagna. It's less work and it goes down easily.
Your "front bridge," because you hated the word dentures, is bright white and your wide smile reminds me of the keys on your baby grand piano. It lives with me in Pennsylvania now. You traveled all over the globe but never back in time to see an Amish mother lift her daughter from the carriage of their horse-drawn buggy -- a site that still mesmerizes me because they are both in bonnets like the ones Laura Ingalls Wilder wore on the prairie.
Can you imagine your baby grand facing an Amish farm and not the Pacific Ocean? The little topiary trees you bought for your dining table are now perched on your baby grand's shoulders, the tags from the store where you found them, still attached. They look brand new, as if fresh moss was just added to their roots. I couldn't bring myself to take the tags off. After more than 20 years, what right did I have to change them? I touch the little trees sprayed with faux gold gracing each side of your piano and reach down to pick that 4-leaf clover. I'm inside the picture, next to you again, only this time we're sitting together on the piano bench. I reach for the soft creases of your elbow and watch your hands settle around Middle C. Your velvety top smells like your French Toast. I saw it there in your closet countless times but ignored it. It was just another thing you liked to wear. Now? It's a cherished heirloom, though I can only touch it and you while living inside this picture.
What were you laughing about that night? I mean, I know that someone snapped the photo during a joyful moment, but what was it that allowed you to be your most relaxed self, so at ease? Like a young woman in love with life instead of a heartbroken widow and cancer survivor, facing her late seventies.
In the blink of that camera's eye, did you remember the taste of your lasagna sauce on a typical Sunday night dinner, though your taste buds had stopped working? I thought those Sunday nights in California would last forever, but now it's me who can hardly taste them in Pennsylvania on the other side of the moon, adrift from the past and wanting, like the Amish, to ride in a carriage frozen in time.