Anne Notations

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Letter home

Dear Mom and Dad,

I enjoyed visiting you yesterday in Mattapoisett. It's been a while. I've missed the quiet, small-town cemetery where your ashes lie. While I know you are not actually there, I feel close to you at the site you chose years ago, a place where songbirds linger in the trees in springtime and the sea wind drifts powdery snow in winter.

You'll be glad to know that I spent part of the day at your (our) old house in the town center, visiting John and Karen. My little brother (that's funny; he's 6'4") and I seem to be drawing closer in recent years, appreciating each other's company. We were good friends as children, despite our five-year age difference, so I'm truly happy to recover some of that early bond.

The house looks great since they redecorated it. You'd like the spacious, warm kitchen, Mom. Having grown up during the Great Depression, it was difficult for you ever to spend money – money you had – on something as unnecessary as an expanded, modernized kitchen. Now it's hard to imagine the house without the renovated kitchen. We gather at the big granite island counter and perch on tall chairs, sipping coffee and tea and enjoying Karen's beautiful Christmas decorations, talking about our kids – your grandchildren.

Cousins on Christmas: Melinda, Kevin, and Andrés with my brother's kids, Jessica and Tom.

Just over a week earlier, John and his family came to our house in Rhode Island for Christmas dinner and a few small gifts for the kids. Leslie, Jon, and Caroline came, too.

Jon and Leslie open their stockings; Caroline eats carrots and hummus. In the background are the antique drop-front desk that my parents restored by hand, and on it, their Christmas creche.

For many reasons I have few close friends in my life right now, making family ties all the sweeter.

Driving east through New Bedford on my way to Mattapoisett yesterday, I stared at the old brick factory complex that used to house Revere Copper and Brass, your mutual workplace and the reason you met and married, and where Dad retired in his mid 60s. The plant was opened in 1862 by descendants of that Paul Revere, and it closed in March 2007. I can't get used to the blank space on the inner harbor where the locally beloved neon outline of Paul Revere and his horse galloped over the factory's rooftop. Both a geographic and a personal landmark has vanished.

Speaking of vanished landmarks: Dad, you'll be sad to know that the enormous, ancient ornamental cherry tree in the front yard of the old house fell over a few weeks ago in a fierce wind and snow storm. That's where you set out food for your beloved cardinals – and futilely tried to outwit the clever squirrels. John cleared the limbs away, and that corner of the yard is empty now.

To my surprise, I didn't miss the sight of the cherry tree when I pulled into the driveway. The yard looks balanced and more spacious, especially since the street trees have gotten so tall. Sometimes change, while bittersweet, can open new vistas. John says he looks forward to growing grass on that spot in the spring.

Both of your kids have carried on the family bird-feeding tradition. The other day, in minus windchill weather, our Warwick feeder was graced by a male cardinal who overcame his shyness to perch beside the sparrows on a thistle feeder.

John's feeders are suspended from heavy fishing line (foils the squirrels) across his back yard, visible from the kitchen window. We enjoyed the merry bobbing of a little downy woodpecker on the suet cake.

John and I finished my visit with a late lunch at the Chowder House on Route 6. Seafood chowder for me, shrimp bisque for him. Growing up, every Friday meant fish and chips from the little clam shack on the town wharf. We both still love fish of all kinds; we've both chosen to live by salt water. I guess it's in our blood.

I can't end this without letting you both know that I think of you with love every single day. Every day. There are many reminders: your honey-colored antique pine desk in our living room, the old creche that we set up every Christmas, the cardinals and goldfinches you fed with such joy and that now flock to my own feeders, the sudden sight of my middle-aged face in the mirror (Mom's eyes! Dad's mouth!), the slope of Kevin's neck (your legacy, Dad), some of your favorite old books on our shelves, the very ocean outside our front windows.

You're here and everywhere, but especially I feel your presence in Mattapoisett, where John and I came of age, and you both died. I'll try to get back more often, for my own sake.



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