Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Writing 101, Day Eleven: A Sucker-Punch Assignment.

on June 16, 2014

The house I moved into when I was twelve years old was the perfect size for holding our family’s memories. I can describe that house. But after reading today’s assignment I couldn’t stop there. I was stunned re-membering the sweep of the following twenty-seven years.

We moved into 118 West Harding Street when I was entering the 6th grade. The house was exotic from the point of view of my two sisters and me. Our brother was eighteen months old. His fascination was the fish pond in the back yard. Our mother told us to watch him if he got too close. The living room was two stories high. It became the perfect spot for a gigantic Christmas tree. A second floor hallway opened onto a balcony overlooking the living room. I thought it looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. Not that I’d seen many. The whole family habitually dropped clothes to be laundered over the balcony onto the couch below rather than carrying them downstairs. Very practical I think. After my wedding ten years later I tossed my bridal bouquet over the balcony for my bridesmaids to catch.

The living room and the large back yard were my favorite parts of the house. I also liked the stairs leading from the upstairs hall, curving at the bottom near the front door. As a teenager I loved descending the stairs, slowly for effect, on the evening of the many formal dances we had back then. I would be wearing a formal evening dress stiff with crinoline petticoats. My tuxedoed date would be waiting at the bottom of the stairs for my entrance. It didn’t get any better than that.

The kitchen was nondescript. Years later when my sisters and I visited with our babies we fed them in the kitchen in an assortment of high chairs borrowed from the neighbors. Customarily as a family we gathered around the dining room table for meals, always begun by Daddy saying a blessing. He was Catholic but at our mother’s insistence we were Protestants like her. Years later I discovered I knew by heart the traditional Catholic blessing.

Twenty-four years after we moved into the house, my husband and I and with our three sons, the youngest of whom was eighteen months, joined my sister and her son to celebrate Christmas with our parents. My mother was recovering from heart failure, but seemed better. She celebrated by throwing an open house on Christmas Eve. After the party we younger folk went out to supper with friends. I looked over the balcony as I was heading downstairs to go out to eat. I saw my mother filling her grandchildren’s Christmas stockings. Just after midnight, early on Christmas morning after we had gone to bed, my dad woke us up. He told us the Emergency Squad was on the way to take our mother to the hospital. She was having a heart attack. The doctors were unable to resuscitate her.

The doctor sedated our dad. My sister and I couldn’t sleep. We decided to get the Christmas turkey in the oven and begin preparations for Christmas dinner. We knew that’s what Mama would have wanted. The grandchildren woke up early Christmas Day, as usual. Santa Claus had come. Christmas stockings bulged. Packages wrapped in glittering paper waited under the Christmas tree. It was easy to imagine my mother was still upstairs. Until my son asked, “Where’s Grandma”?

6 responses to “Writing 101, Day Eleven: A Sucker-Punch Assignment.

  1. granonine says:

    Okay, now I understand the ‘sucker punch’ thing. And I’m so sorry for your loss. I think you’ve done a wonderful job here of connecting great joy and pleasure to the great sorrow of losing your mom, all in the same house. Great read.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Absolutely beautiful. I can see it all, and I can feel it too. Our family also suffered a loss early one Christmas morning. I am glad you and your sister’s carried through the holiday in her absence.

  3. Chaos Girl says:

    So bittersweet – such lovely memories of your home and family. Love the practicality of dropping clothes over the the Hollywood balcony, classic!! And giant Christmas trees…..well, I think you can guess what I’d think about that 😉 But I don’t know what to say about losing your mother, and on Christmas day. That’s a lot of years to be without her, and through times when your own littlies were still growing.

  4. vivachange77 says:

    Thanks for feeling what this was like for me. It was sad to lose my mother on Christmas Day. But I made a place for her in all the Christmases that followed. Around midnight, after the rest of my family were asleep, I poured myself a glass of wine, took a chocolate chip cookie from the fancy Christmas tin and sat in the living room by our (normal sized) Christmas tree to remember my mother. As the years passed this moved from being a sad occasion to a comfortable place where her memory lived.

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