My parents occasionally visited friends who had a swimming pool. It was surrounded by tall trees and was seldom warmed by the sun, so the water was invariably quite cold. However I was used to swimming in the ocean, which as any New Englander knows, is considered warm if it gets into the 60’s. My parents did not swim in the pool. My mother did not like the cold water and my dad was more interested in conversation with their friends. I swam and played in the water to my heart’s content and only reluctantly left the pool when my lips had turned blue with cold.
My grandmother belonged to a swim and tennis club situated on the ocean. In addition to providing access to the beach it also had a saltwater pool. I loved that pool as well and was always thrilled when my grandmother invited me to go there with her. They had very good club sandwiches too, crusts removed—something my mother never served. In addition she insisted I eat my crusts, telling me they were good o me. What a treat it was. Also I felt elegant sharing lunch with my grandmother in the rustic clubhouse. It was probably these two pools that implanted in my mind the desirability of owning one.
One day Stephen and I came to Grafton to find a home and the real estate agent showed us a lovely house with a pool. While we both liked the house and the land around it, I was particularly excited to actually have a swimming pool of my own. My unstated yet nevertheless real wish had come true. My childhood memories of swimming and playing in the water had morphed into an opportunity to bask in the ownership of a pool I could swim in whenever I wished to.
Little did I know then the outcome of that wish fulfillment. At first the pool seemed wonderful. I could swim in it to my hearts content. Then I discovered that it needed daily maintenance, together with chemicals. We purchased a device that helped clean the pool, yet it still had to be skimmed and occasionally vacuumed. The reality of how much it cost to maintain and how much work that was began to emerge. There was so much we did not know about pools, especially old ones, and how to keep them in pristine condition.
People swam with seawater still in their suits. Difficult to eradicate black mold grew in the pool. The sides began to crumble. We patched them as best we could. The finishing touch came when friends brought their teenaged sons over and the resultant hours of cannonballs loosened the old, outdated concrete lining until it flapped back and forth. We inquired about repairs and were told it would cost as much as a new pool: in the tens of thousands. Faced with that we opted to eliminate the pool, filling it in. Thus ended the dream, resulting in a lesson learned. Needless to say I became less eager to make wishes. However, when I do, I am very careful to consider what their fulfillment might entail.
The recent announcement of President Carter’s cancer follows on the heels of my hearing about many others whose illness of one sort or another has proclaimed their relatively immanent mortality. In other words, a multitude of serious sicknesses–cancer, heart problems and other conditions of ill health have invaded the lives of people I know and in many cases, love. Perhaps this has to do with getting older. I do not remember hearing as much about such things only a few years ago.
I may have been fortunate in this respect: The death of people I knew and loved wasn’t part of my childhood experience–I went to my first funeral, an aged cousin when I was twelve. Yet death as a part of life was no stranger to me. Growing up with pets and small farm animals I had an intimate acquaintance with it. Ducklings, rabbits, dogs, cats, and the chickens we ate for dinner all lived and died as I watched. I buried my pets myself with due ceremony. I watched as the chicken for dinner was beheaded with an ax.
When I was in my twenties I thought little about death. Then my children’s father nearly perished in an automobile accident. The thought of those I loved dying now forced itself on my attention and I began more to appreciate the specialness of life and of my relationships. Still, I was occupied with life and death wasn’t something I thought much about. Time went by and my grandmother died. She seemed to me an appropriate age to pass on. While I mourned her absence, I was busy with life and my little ones, we were no longer living close to one another and I did not miss her presence.
Years later death grew more familiar. I lost my father to illness, then my own precious son. Some years later several young friends died untimely deaths. Moe and more I was brought to an understanding of the place of death in life. As much as I mourned, I began to recognize that death was indeed a part of life; that dying was merely the blowing out of the candle that was lit at birth. Life is a gift for which I am grateful and the lives of those I love and have loved are very dear to me. Yet like flowers we grow, bud, blossom an finally wilt away.
Untimely death is harder to bear than what seems a natural process. My rabbits were killed when a dog got into their pen. My dog was run over in front of me. Later on my son died far sooner than he might have. Yet even untimely, this is still death as a part of life. Although I miss him still, my sorrow is not so much for his death as it is for the life he was not able to live. We are all most fortunate for whatever time we have on this earth. In my nightly prayers I make sure to express my gratitude for my dear ones, those whose candles still burn brightly. May they continue.
It makes me happy that there is a day set aside each year to be devoted to acknowledging mothers. The folderol that has grown up surrounding it is a product of the commercialism with which we are surrounded. Most mothers would probably be glad to do without the obligatory dinner out at a restaurant jammed with other families setting out to treat her to a meal she does not have to cook, or the trinkets she has to find a place to put on her crowded bureau.
To me what is more important is that Mothers’ day serves as a reminder that much of what mothers do all year round is usually taken for granted by their children. This ranges from the daily meals and laundry to the cleaning and tidying that goes with looking after a family. Trust me, I’m not complaining here, actually I’m thinking of my own mom and how much of what she did that I took for granted as I was growing up.
Of course she provided meals and did what she could to keep up a household with four children and a husband who was not inclined to help with housework. She wouldn’t let him cook because she said he burnt things and she intensely disliked wasting food. What she did do, personally for me, is more to the point in my memory.
She helped me with my homework, especially anything to do with languages. She worked hard to drill a proper French accent into me, and she faithfully reviewed my vocabulary and grammar lessons as well. She endured my piano practice as best she could. A trained musician with a perfect ear, I know that she cringed through my practice, and she quickly acquiesced when I said I didn’t want to take lessons any more.
When as a teenager I needed to reduce my weight she carefully counted my calories and helped me lose fifteen pounds two summers in a row. I remember that she did despair, Nor did she complain when I gained back most of what I had lost living at my grandmother’s, but set simply about doing it again. My robust grandmother did not count calories and she ate four good meals a day including tea with English muffins and home made cookies or cake.
My mother certainly tried hard to do the best she could for me. Often she went without to make sure I had what I needed. As I remember, at the time, I did not appreciate my mother’s efforts. I grew to understand how valuable they were once I had children of my own. It is truly said that one cannot fully appreciate what a parent goes through until one becomes one. I miss her. The four years since she breathed her last have sped by. I think of her often. Sometimes I feel her presence just as though she is with me, only in another room yet still within hearing distance.