I was in bliss every night this past week as I investigated recipes (cut drumsticks off first and roast separately? Salt under the skin as well as on top? Use the special turkey roaster Julia and Tony sent over, or the oven? Where is that old recipe for yeast rolls?). Dawn on Thanksgiving day found me still happily in the food-and-family flow but also queasy-stomached.
I brought out the silver Grandmother Maribelle gave me when I married. ("For Sheri, if she promises to take care of it," her hand-written note still lies in the chest next to the setting for eight.) Didn’t have time to polish it like we always did with my mother's silver when I was young: thoroughly rubbing on the pink paste, rinsing, air-drying, wiping down one more time and then setting the table with Mother’s magnolia-blossom china.
I had bought myself flowers to celebrate Sequoya’s life, to cheer myself up, choosing the ones with eucalyptus because the sight and scent of them always remind me of Corey. She showed me the first eucalyptus trees I had ever seen. She was always so excited to share all the mystery of Northern California. Such a California Girl.
Thanksgiving morning, the eucalyptus branches called out and said: Take me to the table! Weave me into a centerpiece! It was perfect against the white-tablecloth and golden-colored glass pumpkin.
Pandora played Jai Uttal and that other deep-voiced chanter whose name I don’t know, singing words I don’t understand, Hindi words that are oddly soothing. The whole house filled with deep peace as I carried out the plan I had made all week. I thought often of Corey and how much she loved to cook, to have a party, to feed people and see them laugh. The sizzling turkey was starting to fill the kitchen with amazing smells as the yeast rolls rose silently in the warming drawer, and beyond the kitchen the amber fire danced in the burgundy enamel wood stove. I was in a world of homemaking bliss, of Hesta, the heaven that is home and hearth and family. Then, standing at the kitchen sink, the stabbing pain of wanting Corey here. But even as the first sobbing sound burst from my throat, in that very instant came a little house finch who flew from out of nowhere and perched herself on the narrow window ledge opposite me. (It had flown to the upper left by the time I took the photo below.)
I tell you, this does not happen: birds don’t fly under this back porch, and I’ve never in ten years had one come to the kitchen window, much less at the exact second that I started to weep. The very surprise of it stopped my tears. I looked at her and she looked at me as she twitched a bit and readjusted her position a few millimeters. Clear as day, I heard: I AM HERE. I felt the reality from Corey’s side: Don’t cry wishing I was here; just know that I am here. I am still here, Mom.
Ethan cleared his plate completely, Calvin said the meal was the bomb, and Julia raved about it, so I guess it was good, but I could not get a morsel of food into my mouth. The slight nausea was still there. I did not speak of it. I suppose I have become an expert at navigating the moments of my life with grief in my right hand and joy in my left.
Julia’s car had barely left the driveway when I poured myself a cup of chamomile tea, preparing for an evening of quiet fire glow. Hopefully, the tea will calm this stomach. I reach for the honey decanter—I rarely use sweetener but this time I go for it—and as I lift it from the little white bowl it sits in, there is another Corey sign: a beautiful heart of honey droplets had somehow formed in the bottom of the bowl.
Corey often signed her name by making a heart next to it. The sight of the perfect little heart made of honey made me feel that she couldn’t possibly make her presence known any more clearly. Oh how the tears fell then! Warmth and joy, grief and thanksgiving all washed over me amidst the sumptuous smells of the house, by the firelight. I wept and wailed for maybe a half hour. Felt better. Fell asleep. Awoke with no nausea. Finally, I was hungry for food.
I believe now, looking back, that this wave of grief needed to be expressed, needed to come out, but I didn’t know it, and it took these outward signs--the flight of a little bird, a honey-drawn heart-- to extract the grief from my body. Then and only then could I partake of the life-giving force of food.
How the bird came in that moment, how the honey heart formed (the day after I had re-discovered Martin Prechtel’s honey-in-the-heart Grief and Praise CD!), I don’t know and I don’t care. The How of these things doesn’t concern me in the least.
The timing is the thing.... The timing is irrefutable.