Later on, when I was standing in the kitchen cutting up a pumpkin to prepare puree, I remembered how much my mother loved the autumn, how much energy it gave her for new projects. I was feeling that way the entire weekend. Whenever I have worked in the garden, I have felt her presence as well, and that is no surprise since she loved planting her own garden in the spring. A small flower garden, but one she was very proud of and that looked so lovely each year. She planted morning glories at the base of the lampposts so that they would have a post to climb as they grew. She planted a trellis on the side of the apartment building we lived in, and grew red roses there. And she ordered her tulip bulbs from Holland each year from a catalog company I don’t remember the name of. Whenever I hear the birds in my own garden, I am reminded of my mother’s love of birds. She would watch them from our kitchen window as they gathered in the dogwood tree outside the window, and during the winter she made sure they had enough food.
I think of my father too, when I am sitting at the dinner table with my husband and we are discussing different world situations. It reminds me of all the times I sat with my father after dinner and discussed the state of the world with him. That was when I was growing up in the 1970s. In the 1980s, when I was working in Manhattan, I would sometimes meet him for lunch since he worked there as well, and we would wander over to St. Francis of Assisi church on West 31st Street. I seem to remember that the church had a bookstore/gift shop then, and we would purchase a book or two and look forward to discussing them after we had read them. I checked the church’s website but could not find any mention of the bookstore, so perhaps it no longer exists or perhaps my memory is faulty. My father and I bonded over books and faith, and they led to spiritual and intellectual discussions that buoyed me through my teenage years. He was my link to the outside world and to the work world. He died over thirty years ago, a lifetime in so many respects. Yet that connection too remains strong.
Books are the portals that allow me to connect to my parents. I remember them individually and together. I was closest to my father when I was a teenager, and when he died, I grew very close to my mother. As a child, I remember them as a couple, sitting together in the evening reading their individual books. Before my father’s health diminished him, he would sometimes tease my mother or chase her around the dining room table. That vision sticks in my mind—that they had their happy moments in the middle of their trying times, mostly due to my father’s poor health. His health is what I remember most as I neared my twenties; I can see my mother walking with him after he had his first stroke, helping him cross the street to the church so he could attend mass with her. She never wavered in her care of him. She took care of her blind mother before she met my father, and then my father and us children after her marriage. It is her faith, loyalty and devotion that stand out in my mind to this day. She had the strength and courage to live her life the way she felt it should be lived. She found grace in the small things; she did not seek the limelight nor would she have been comfortable there. The older I get, when I think about who are the heroes in my life, they are my parents. Their lives were far from perfect, but their faith in God and in each other did not disappear. No matter what private doubts they may have had from time to time, they stayed true to each other and to us. That is all that matters in this life. Nothing else—not worldly glory or fame or money. What matters to me is that the connection to my parents remains strong even though they are no longer physically alive. But they are very much alive in my heart and soul.