A few days after my mother died, I had returned from barn chores and was in my kitchen. I keep my cell phone plugged in there. I rarely use my cell phone and when I do it is usually when I travel or am in my car - only a few relatives have the number.
So I was surprised to see a voice message had come in - it was from my brother, leaving me details about something regarding my mother's estate. I don't know why he called that number but he must have hit a speed dial or something. I went to delete the voicemail from him and noticed there was another voice message from December of last year - it was from my mother.
She had left it after we had a severe wind storm in our area and she had tried calling my land line which was down.
I do not believe it was a coincidence that my brother accidentally called that cell phone, for if he hadn't, I would not have heard her message.
"Hi, I tried calling your other phone but I assume the power is out. I'm just checking to see if things are okay. Talk to you later."
In the first hours after her death, I played it over and over again. Then a couple of times a day. I always end by saying out loud,
"Talk to you later."
I hear her voice in many ways now and will share these encounters here. Sometimes it is a dream, or a song, or another person speaking. But it is always her.
Encounter One: Arrival of a Hankie
My mother was appalled, and humored, that I used toilet paper instead of Kleenex tissue, or better yet, a cotton hankie. She had many hankies, as did my father, but at the least she always had real tissue. I'd have a cold and would pull out a long stream of toilet paper all wrapped neatly out of my jean pocket, rolling off what I needed - in public yet!
Martyn came in one day with the mail, in which there were some notes for me. I reached for one from a friend in Virginia, and began to open it. Moments before, I had an email from the mortuary telling me that my mother's cremation was now officially complete. It was a relief knowing her body was ash rather than sitting lifeless in the cold. I had begun to take off some toilet paper I keep wadded up in my studio drawer, when I opened the note from my friend. She explained that her mother-in-law was a teacher in the '30s and her students would give her hankies as gifts over the years; and when she passed, my friend found a box of beautiful little hankies and took them, giving them out over time to people that would appreciate the thought. She was sending me one to dry my tears. I put down the toilet paper and cry-laughed. I am going to carry that hankie around and not worry if I'm using it to blow my nose around the hen house or wipe a tear while I shovel manure! What wonderful loving gift, and my mother was speaking directly to me, with a smile.
Encounter Two: The Chair
Before I was even born, my father bought a Saarinen Womb chair, in green tweed fabric. It remained in our house along with many Hans Wegner pieces [my father was an architect and loved Danish Modern]. We had it well into my adulthood, but after a move, my parents gave the chair to a family friend. That was about 30 years ago.
My mother told me just last January when I was visiting her that she planned to save money somehow because she wanted another Sarinaan chair. They are expensive but she was so excited to get it. She hadn't told me she ordered it, but after her death, I found the receipts that she'd ordered one and called the store to see if we could stop the order - but the chair was already made and was literally on its way to her place.
The man at the store asked me why my mom didn't want the chair now, and I explained she had died. I told him how we had one in our family home, how she loved the chair and had always wanted another one - and in her papers I found receipts of some crystal and china and art she sold so she could buy one - at the age of 87 still getting excited about a new piece of furniture. The man at the store got all verklempt on me and I had to cheer him up.
I know my mom didn't confirm with me she bought it because she knew Martyn and I would walk into her place on our trip in early May and see it there and be happily surprised. I can just see her face all smiling as she pointed out the chair to us. My brother will take the chair as that would make her happy.
But when I saw the receipt for the chair in her desk items, I could see her face, smiling, and it made me sad at first to know she was days from getting it. But then I realized the anticipation of getting the chair was still something she got to relish in the end.
Encounter Three: Words on a Wall
Today I was working at my studio desk. I had on a music of monks singing chants, and I just closed my eyes for a second. I was thinking of her. And I opened my eyes, and turned my head to the right - to see the words on my studio wall. I had pinned the paper up months ago, long before her death when I was working on "Bucket & Donkey". But now the words meant something else, they meant what I needed them to mean at this moment. She was telling me something.
Encounter Four: Love in a Pie
As I am in the midst of baking pie for my annual Pino Pie Day here at Apifera, memories have been flooding through me. From the mixing bowls I'm using that are vintage '60's from my mother's kitchen, bowls she gave me years ago after one of her moves, to the recipe book with her handwriting - all of it brings her to me.
Way back in 1968, I baked my first pie. I was ten years old.
I insisted on making a banana cream pie.
“That’s a hard pie to start with,” my mother warned me.
“You might want to start with an apple pie.”
Being a little Irish, mixed with Scotch and some German, wrapped in a ten year old psyche, I refused her advice and forged ahead, alone.
My mother kept her distance, but I’m sure kept her ear, and nose, towards the kitchen.
I remember knowing the filling didn’t look quite like my mother’s had in past cream pies. Mine was very runny.
But with the hope of a child, I knew in my heart some cold refrigerator air would fix that.
It didn’t. With a crust like leather and a filling like carrot soup, even my brother wouldn’t eat it.
I let the pie sit in the fridge for a day, sourly disappointed in the outcome,but not ready to fully admit my defeat as a first time baker. I took my sad, mopey self outside for the afternoon, to climb a tree, and pout in my fort of sumac with
the family poodle, the latter who did enjoy licking the bowl,so loyal to all my foibles.
After an afternoon in nature, the setting sun sent me back to the house.
"No pie," I most likely thought, as I had anticipated the taste of the creamy filling as I made it that morning.
I opened the front door and a waft of heaven circled me, engulfed me and there in the kitchen sat sat a fresh banana cream pie.
It was love that inspired my mother to bake that pie that day, some forty years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. If she had not baked me a surprise pie that day, would I have remembered the day as well? I’m not sure.
What she made that day was a little love letter to me, but instead of words, the love was all wrapped up in a butter crust . When I bake a pie now, I think of her. I think of her apron dusted with flour, and the hankies that were always tucked in the pocket.
Baking a pie involves working with flour and sugar, eggs, some fruit and earth's bounties. But the hidden ingredient of any pie is the memory that resonates from each baker's heart as they bake their pie - memories of an old kitchen where a
mother's hankie pulled from an apron pocket can dry the tear of any disappointed creature.