The Robins Still Sing

I never understood the ritual of grave flowers. The one you are planting them for cannot see, smell or find any joy in them. Dad was faithful to plant grave flowers at the foot of the stones, engraved with the names of the ones he loved.

In the month of May, he would gather up a trowel, rake and a basket of new red geraniums—always red geraniums. He said, they were hardy and could weather in the sun.

He would make his way to the old Stevenson Cemetery that sits on a quiet country road and while the robins sang in the trees he would go to work. Wiping the dried grass from the stones, he would carefully plant his fragrant, unseen and unknown offerings.

Flowers that would grow unseen by the grandparents he adored, the mother he lost as a boy, the father he lived to please and the brother who died too young. These were his people and they were gone, yet his love for them was as faithful as the flowers he planted each year. His love weathered in the sun.

I find myself weathering, the days, the weeks, the months, the almost two years since Dad has been gone. Grief is an aching, a longing, as memories come fluttering back like leaves on the wind. Grief is the price you pay for love, and the love makes it worth it.

In the month of May, Mom and I find ourselves making our way down the quiet country road to the old Stevenson Cemetery. We wipe off the dried grass from the gravestone inscribed with his name. The robins sing as we sink our hands down in the dirt, the dirt that holds his ashes, yet he is not there.

We plant the grave flowers, our fragrant offering of pastel impatiens instead of red geraniums, because red geraniums make us too sad.

We plant the grave flowers for him, for the ones he loved, but mostly for us. We need reminding, that the love that binds us is faithful, and the robins still sing their cheerful song.

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For as long as I can remember my parents were makers. The act of working with one’s hands brings a special kind of joyful satisfaction that is not found anywhere else.

After a full day of work and caring for our family, the sun would set on another day and the moon would rise. Once Mom tucked my brother and I in bed for night, out would come Mom’s fabric, pins, cutting board and the quiet hum of her sewing machine would begin. Often, I would creep out of my bed and peek into the living room and see her sitting in the lamp light, cross-legged on the floor, holding a pin in her mouth, her gaze intent on the fabric in her hand.

For those hours she was consumed in the act of making. Far ahead of American Doll she was making my dolls and I matching flannel nightgowns, wardrobes for my barbies, superhero costumes for my brother. She found a quiet joy in the making hours.

Dad had a shop where his latest projects came to life. From loading his own shot gun shells, making fishing lures, refinishing wood pieces to crafting leather his hands were always at work, and were rough stained and often garnished with a piece of duct tape, acting as a band aide.

He spent hours in his shop, sanding, building, cutting, staining and stringing, and we were always welcome to join him.  The shop was a magical place, filled with the smell of wood and leather, and my brother and I were always invited to join.  Boxes and drawers were filled with trinkets and heirlooms and every piece had a story.

Dad’s shop sits empty now and my heart aches each time I peek in. I long to see him look up from his worktable with a smile and say, “Hey, baby girl!” when I pop in to visit. I long to hold his stained, rough hand in mine and feel his warmth.

As Mom balanced Dad’s care and working full time her sewing machine grew quiet for years.  On a dark winter morning the three of us huddled around Dad as his last breath passed from his lips and we all grew quiet, not sure what life would be like without him. I know this, life is less without him.

It would take a pandemic for Mom to pull out her fabric, her pins, and her cutting board.  Her sewing machine hummed once again as masks were made and pressed, a safe covering for family friends and neighbors. She was making again, and joyful satisfaction was found once more.

I have had many failed attempts at trying to find some way of making that would fill my bones as it did my parents.  I have drawers filled with cake decorating supplies, paint and brushes, glue guns, yarn and crochet hooks.  It wasn’t until I stuck my hands in the dirt, nurturing seeds as they rooted and grew, that I finally found the joyful satisfaction I had seen on their faces for myself.

Winter is long in the North East and a making had to be found to fill those long, dark months when plants sit quiet.  I found that words are like seeds, you write them out, bury them, go back and water them often, and they too will root and grow.

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Seeds and Water

Seeds and Water

Here we are in week four of quarantine and life has taken on a strangeness. Gone is the normal schedule, gone is the daily flow. We find ourselves being tossed around on the waves of unknowing. Our sense of daily awareness is gone, the hours and days running together.

Through out these weeks I have been thinking about my Dad and what his reaction to all of this would have been. I miss his calming force. He had a sense about him that made you feel like everything was going to be alright, even when it wasn’t.

I began to write down all that I could remember about him, for you see, I’m terrified I will forget, forget his laugh, his smile, his words. Funny thing, when you start recalling memories, God is good and brings you an avalanche of them.

They come in the shower, while bending over a sink full of dishes, while folding laundry and when you lie in bed at night. Some memories bring life and comfort, others the sting of pain still lives.

I found that not only memories of my Dad came, but memories of many people who have come in and out of my life. I began to imagine them as seeds and water, the planting and watering of a garden, the growing of a girl.

Seeds and Water

Some of the seeds took deep root in my life, some blew away in the wind. Some of the watering was like soft spring rain, other torrential downpours that washed growing seeds away. All of them have grown me into the woman I am today, teaching me many life lessons, about others and myself.

I have been wrestling with Paul’s words about those who plant and water our lives. He says that they are important and equal, God sees their labor and their reward awaits them. Yet is is God who does the growing, the growing of a girl, a vineyard, a garden, she is the house where God dwells.

God, who causes the growth, is the only One who matters. The one who plants is no greater than the one who waters; both will be rewarded based on their work. We are gardeners and field workers laboring with God. You are the vineyard, the garden, the house where God dwells. 1 Corinthians 3 7b-9 The Voice

We are often looking forward, preparing and planning, rarely looking back. I must say, this time of looking back has been good for my soul.

Some of my planters and waterers still live and others have gone home for their reward, and I know their rewards are sweet. If I do not share how their stories entwined with mine, who will ? How will they be remembered? How will their seeds continue to grow in future generation?
It is a strange time we are living in friends and we have been given the rare gift of time. Let’s allow our memories to stir and then watch the avalanche come. Remembering the stories of those who have planted seeds and poured water over our lives.
Our life is but a breath and we are the only ones who can tell our story, and everyone loves a story. Say what you have been given to say.

With Love,

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