I always imagine my father as looking exactly like he looked when I left home for college more than twenty years ago. When I think of him, it’s like my mind only recalls an image of him as he was decades ago, when we last spent a considerable amount of time together. Back before I graduated from high school and before I ventured out as a young adult. It’s such an odd phenomenon but when I chat with him on the phone, I don’t picture the older man he is now. Like a trick of the mind, I only see the younger version. The version of my father in his early fifties. Wearing that one jacket he liked with a button-down shirt and sporting a mustache.
I know I can’t be the only one that this happens to because others have the same reaction to seeing my children for the first time in a long while. They remark at how grown my three kids are. How much they’ve changed. How much older they are. In some ways, it’s like that with my parents. I’m not around them often so when I visit with them, it takes a minute to register that they’re no longer the younger versions of themselves. My father is no longer fifty-three and a mechanical engineer. He’s seventy-six and paints landscapes in his retirement.
I always finish one visit with my parents focused on scheduling another one. So, I study my calendar and coordinate times with my sister and plan my visits and we are all so busy and someone inevitably gets sick and months go by and then half of a year passes and I see them once again and I think, oh, that’s right. They are older now.
Time is funny in that it tricks you. Tricks you into thinking you have more of it than you really do.
Bob’s mom has died. He spent Christmas with her in December. Then, a little more than a week later, she fell. A week after that, she was gone. Just like that. That quickly. Heartbreakingly fast. It was her time and we are aching in her absence.
She was a tremendous mother to Bob, guiding and supporting him through some of the most important transitions in his life. She was a rock for him during times of struggle or unhappiness or indecision. She was deeply, deeply loved. I didn’t know her back then, all those years ago. I only knew her later. Bob used to bemoan that fact, saying, “I wish you could have seen her in the earlier years.” I wish that, too. But, it’s okay. I met Bob and I met his mom at exactly the right time.
There’s a bench in her kitchen. In the kitchen that Bob’s dad built and which served as the heart of their family home for sixty years. The bench being in the same spot for most, if not all, of that time. I used to sit on that bench during our visits to New York and watch Bob’s mom shuffle about the kitchen, back and forth between the pantry and the stove and the sink, preparing food for us, for others, for a potluck we were all headed to. Everything in that kitchen had a home. The utensils in easy reach hanging from hooks on the side of the refrigerator. The pots and pans in their designated spots on the pantry walls. Compact and utterly efficient and still looking the same after decades of use.
That kitchen is such a comfortable place to be. I can hear the sound of her bare feet skimming the tile floor and can see the shine of the gold ankle bracelet she wore and I can remember the way she would tuck her fingers into her hair when she was calculating a measure or reading through a recipe card. That’s where we connected best in the time that I knew her. In that kitchen.
I will miss her and I will miss her kitchen. A space filled with a lifetime of meaningful tchotchkes and little figurines and framed Mother’s Day cards and Irish quotes and dried flowers and a refrigerator covered in photos and a cabinet full of I heart grandma coffee mugs. I used to love to walk around looking at each and every little thing that held such meaning for her. Studying the things she adored.
They were all symbols. Symbols of time and of a life. A life well lived.