Stories to tell

With Leonard Cohen playing in the background, I feel it would be only fair for me to advise you that I have a lot of stories that seem to want to come out today. So here goes and maybe at the end it will all make sense. Or as one of my favorite Dutch expressions puts it “Achteraf je kijk naar de kont van de koe” . Which literally translates to “Looking back, you are staring at the cow’s ass”. Which is a fairly descriptive way of saying that hindsight is 20/20.

When I was in first grade, we lived in San Diego. There was a family up the street with two teenagers. The daughter would babysit the four of us. The parents were a good support for my mom, especially when my dad would be deployed to sea for six months at a stretch. I remember the dad always used to call me Peppermint Patty after the Peanuts character. I didn’t understand why because I was not a redhead then. I figured it out later on that Peppermint Patty was kind of obnoxious, definitely a tomboy and socially awkward. I definitely think he was on to something. My family has a long history with Peanuts. Especially Rupert and Snoopy. I used to think Lucy was the most annoying twit on the planet and still sort of do. Except lately, I have begun feeling very much like Lucy with her whole advice booth with the signboard saying “The Doctor is In, Advice 5 cents”. Somehow that’s not so annoying anymore.

I suppose better Lucy than Dr. Phil. Over the past week, as Lucy, I have been very busy. Being seen as Lucy is actually quite a compliment I think. If people want to tell you what they are struggling with, that means two things – they trust me enough to share and they think I will listen. Both are characteristics that I was not always known for. I do have sort of rapid fire let’s go straight to the solution streak. I think over the past five years, I have been trying to listen better and solve less. Of course, it could also be that I just come across as so mature and grown up and I remember the world before the internet that could be creating this impression of safety 😉

My mother had this gift of people wanting to tell her their stories. Rupert has it in spades. My mother would also listen. Okay, maybe not to her daughter that often, but when people wanted to talk to her, she would. And she would be very direct with her thoughts on the subject. She said what she thought people needed to hear, she spoke the truth. Trust me, I know some of the things she said about me to other people 😉 When I was talking to her yesterday, I thanked her for teaching me the importance of listening and that I would keep practicing.

Speaking of yesterday, there are stories there all on their own. I took the day off because I knew I wanted to have the freedom to go where the grief would take me. Of course, at 930 in the morning the phone started ringing for work. I was surprisingly steadfast and did not answer. Around 1030, the boys and I left Amsterdam to go to Marum. We were lucky, it was clear, windy and sunny. I took the A7 the long way across the Afsluitdijk this time. It is definitely the longer way to Marum but I had driven that way a time too before with Mom and with Joanne when I was here to make the arrangements for Mom and Marum. I feel like driving across the Afsluitdijk is like being in the middle of nowhere, on a way to an adventure.

By the time we stopped in Friesland for gas and for the boys to run wild in the wind next to the sheep pasture, I realized over my cup of gas station coffee (channeling my inner Dylan) that I hadn’t begun to cry yet. This felt good. Usually, I take the A1 to the A6 to the A7 and I am usually starting to cry at the beginning of the A6. Of course, when I crossed the border from Freisland into Groningen, I did begin to cry. There isn’t anything wrong with crying, that’s not my point. On the anniversary of her death, the last thing I wanted to do was think about her dying. Rather, I wanted to think about all of the things that she did as she was living. That included yelling “Keep your pants on, jackass” at the guy that was really angry at me in the traffic circle. And he was in the right but I wasn’t going to admit that!

George saw his first pony yesterday. Before we went into the churchyard, we went for a walk. There is a meadow that butts up against the memorial garden of the cemetery. George stopped in his tracks (he was off leash) and spent a good five minutes staring at the pony. I could almost hear his thoughts “Hmm, what are you? We’re about the same size but you have a lot of  hair in some strange places. And why do you smell so weird, like grass?” George rarely focuses that long on anything!

On our way home, we stopped at the McDonald’s where the A7 meets the A6. I decided that the boys would get a cheeseburger, I would use the bathroom and we would remember the times that Mom would be gone on all day trips to the peninsula and the boys would end up getting her ice cream cone. I have never seen a McDonald’s with a conference room. Playground, yes, birthday party room, yes, conference room, no. I had a coffee and they had the Groente Burger on the menu – the Green Burger. So, we all sat in the trunk of Astrid and ate our lunch to the amusement of the people in the parking lot. I am not sure what attracted the most attention – the boys in their coats or the fact that they were eating at McDonald’s.

Yesterday was definitely a fleece wearing kind of day with the wind. I have a shockingly bright coral vest (it was a closeout size and color and price). The Dutch call a vest a “bodywarmer”. Which makes sense but doesn’t immediately bring to mind the visual of a vest. I am 99% certain my mom wore a vest year round. Henry would always try to burrow inside her vest. His idea of paradise is being next to a human being surrounded by fleece with no expectations for exertion. I also realized yesterday that wearing a vest is like wearing a hug. I am wearing it again today, with an orange tshirt underneath. I suddenly panicked yesterday thinking I had given Mom’s vests away. But I realize now that I didn’t. I packed it away in the things I wanted to save.

Before returning to Amsterdam, we stopped in Almere and went walking along the beach. Strangely enough, for all the signs that say “Dogs are prohibited” there were a lot of dogs. Apparently, the dogs couldn’t read. We joined right in. My mom loved the beach. She could walk hours along it. When we were in Mexico, she did.

And on a day to celebrate my mother, Marianne and I had dinner at Frankendael. The dinner was, of course, incredible. The house is still beautiful and I still hear my mother saying she could easily live there. I think it is impossible to have a bad meal there. I also think it is hard to be sad there. And those are things that I am so grateful for, that I have the memories of my mother in so many places. I would trade all of those memories to have her here in person to be doing things with. But it will never be that way again. And the memories that I make now are the emptier because she is not part of them but she remains part of me.

Looking at the cow’s ass, I think what I realize most is that honoring my mother means taking the strengths and gifts she gave me and making sure I put them to use every single day. Most especially not taking those days for granted. Being afraid or sorrowful is okay, being static is not.

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