The last few days have found me standing at the big kitchen table at Hillhouse, over which so many champagne corks have bounced off the ceiling, labeling honey.  Almost one thousand pounds of it.  Labeling honey is not really a mentally stimulating activity, though I don’t mind doing it.  It gives me time to think, as I carefully lay the honey bottles on their sides, peel the pretty brown kraft paper labels from their rolls, and press the labels gently against the plastic.

Today didn’t start off on a very good note, and I was sad, so it was a good morning to rest my brain and label honey.  For the first time in several weeks, my brain emptied of all my to-do lists, the candles I still need to pour for the Made in Montana Fair, the settlement offer I need to respond to in a divorce I’m handling, the credit card statements I need to check through for deductions, the weekly love letter I haven’t yet written to Honeydew.  My mind turned, as it does so often in quiet times, to the people I wish were sitting at the kitchen table with me, but who have since left this world.   Howard, Chris Street, my Pa Pa, and a Who’s Who of other fabulous folks I’ve never written about here, like Steve Lee, Rob France, and Lil Bob Burns.  I guess that’s part of why I stay so busy.  Contemplating all that the world is missing with the loss of these men is defeating.  And I will not be defeated.

But anyway, my thoughts wandered to this poem that my darlin’ aunt Sissy recently shared with me, from the poet Julia Kasdorf:

What I Learned From My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love

the living, to have plenty of vases on hand

in case you have to rush to the hospital

with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants

still stuck to the buds.  I learned to save jars

large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole

grieving household, to cube home-canned pears

and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins

and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.

I learned to attend viewing even if I didn’t know

the deceased, to press the moist hands

of the living, to look in their eyes and offer

sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.

I learned that what we say means nothing,

what anyone will remember is that we came.

I learned to believe I had the power to ease

awful pains materially like an angel.

Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once

you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer

healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,

the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

I read this poem and know myself.  I have become a person who is simultaneously destroyed by every tragedy that comes across my awareness, weeping over the virtual newspaper as I read about a person I have absolutely no connection to, and yet untouched, ready to appear at a bereaved’s door, cake in hand, to soak up their tears with the starch in my collar and the steel in my spine.  Unlike the poet, I’m not certain that this is something I learned from my mother, but I did learn from Mom, in the aftermath of Howard’s death, to always keep a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator, to be ready to send that cork flying over the kitchen table, celebrating the first honey bottled for the season, the last day of summer, the arrival of old friends, and the departure of stale house guests.  This lesson is not something she’s ever put into words, but just an example of how she lives her life, despite her loss.  Thanks, Mom.

Mom and How:

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