i called my mother yesterday. it was her wedding anniversary, the third one since my father died, and i'd forgotten to send her a card or a flower. we get busy in our lives, i know, and as i thought about the note or the flower, i realized that the one thing she wanted i couldn't give her. my voice would have to do.
how are you? i asked.
'tired,' she said.
'i washed the windows today,' she said.
my mother is 88 years old. she lives in a beautiful home filled with windows that let the sun in, in the morning, where the moon casts a soft glow over the living room rug at night. and she does not like a dingy window — never has.
'i thought i'd start with the front bedroom window and just go along, one or two at a time, she told me. 'but you know me.'
don't i. i have a lifetime of knowing the woman who would remake my bed if it didn't suit her, whose linen closet i used to stand and admire for its geometric organization, the same woman who scoured the whole house spring and fall so when we came home from school you could feel the sparkle.
18 windows, she said. and she just kept going along until she had cleaned practically every window in the house, almost by accident. (her sunroom is literally filled with windows. to be fair, one window is safely out of reach.)
on a recent visit to her house i scanned her fridge for the latest comic, since there has been one there since my childhood. tacked close to one featuring a character not being able to hear was an article suggesting that a clean house for the elderly has a direct correlation to their mental and physical stability. as if she needed proof that all her years of home keeping was finally worth the work.
she used to say she never needed to exercise because she vacuumed every day and that was plenty. and it was.
my mother's house is ever ready for company: flowers on the kitchen table, beds made up with soft sheets, pillows piled high and towels hung, waiting. even my son says it's the most comfortable house he's ever slept in. i don't know about you, but i will hope my imagined grandchildren will feel the same about mine.
do you know what day it is? i asked her before hanging up.
'yes,' she said. 'keeping the windows kept my mind busy.'
busy with memory, surely, of the years she and my father sparkled— and there were almost 61 of those.
my mother no doubt slept hard last night, as we like to say where i come from, climbing between her own soft sheets, knowing her hands had touched every pane in that house and left it gleaming.
a lot has happened since my father has been gone. grandchildren married. great-grandchildren born and too many hoped for lost. we could have used his wisdom in the time since, which at times seem like years and others like just days. i'm sure it feels like that in every loss.
but my mother, as always, provides perspective. there still is a bit of sparkle left, even in my father's absence. for one full day she polished her windows to a spit shine, no doubt remembering as she washed each pane, the life she spent with my father, remembering their sparkle in the sheen.
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