Attention, Please…

Ah, and wasn’t I muttering about the phone company yesterday! The problems with our web hosting service being attacked repeatedly has been annoying enough, but on top of that to have these chronically intermittent telephone problems was a pothole too far.

The Baron is more philosophical. This phone internet was so much better and cheaper than what we’d had before, so what if it seemed to be in beta mode? Besides, their customer service was prompt, courteous, and the techs spoke American English, a boon for elder ears. So when the phones went dead suddenly, he wasn’t surprised given that we’d had ‘issues’ with our reception the day before. They were more or less resolved and the phone tech told him the squawking on the line was a sign of water damage. However, he did say it wasn’t a wide outage as no one else had reported a problem that day. Therefore we’d have to wait for it to malfunction again for them to find the source of the problem.

Since the B had already made plans to go to town for supplies, he just made sure to take our ancient cell phone so he could call the technician to report this new outage. Also, he could call Vlad to have him put a notice at Gates of Vienna up about our silence.

After the Baron left for town I went outside to water the straw covering our latest attempt at grass. Coming around the corner of the house I ran into a phone line. As in I literally “ran into” and almost tripped over the darn thing. I looked to my left, toward the telephone pole at the edge of the yard. Partly blocking my view was a very large branch of our dead mimosa tree. It had fallen hard and taken the phone line with it. [So that was the noise I’d heard earlier – an ominous basso “thunk” for which there didn’t seem to be any evidence. Mystery solved.]

Mimosa trees don’t usually live long, at most twenty years. Their brief span isn’t surprising since they’re not trees at all but bushes from the legume family. I remembered them vividly from my childhood in Florida; we called them peach blossoms because of the color of the flowers and the lovely fragrance. I don’t ever recall them being a problem plant back then so when we first moved here this tiny little thing, perhaps four feet tall or so, didn’t seem a threat. Why, the figs planted in that bed were much taller and more prepossessing than that bush; if I thought about it at all, I figured it was probably a volunteer, given that mimosas are ‘trash trees’ much like pawlonias – they’re in bloom all through summer along the roadsides.

Sometimes it’s a good thing we can’t see the future. That innocent little spindle was to become the bane of my existence for much of each year as I cleaned up after it. And the seeds! Uncountable pods, each with six seeds just waiting to sprout in the other beds. If you got them uprooted before they reached more than a foot, easy peasy. Any taller and you’d have a divil of a time with the taproot.

However, for two months or more each summer, that fecund wretch would transform itself into a magnificent and seductive beauty. Very tall, its feathery green branches supported thousands of pink-coral blossoms and they in turn drew hummingbirds and bees to gather nectar. People sat in its shade entranced, watching the hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, then looking down to brush powder-puff blossoms off their own shoulders while breathing in deeply this essence of summer. Children climbed those sturdy limbs, violets grew in the crotches. That queen reigned supreme, she truly did and I almost forgave her.

A weed tree had transformed itself, somehow becoming the center, the symbol supreme, of Summer. And I was her hand servant – half-admiring, half-grumbling.

Then a couple of years ago, long past its appointed two score or so years, our royal tree began her slow decline. By then the children had grown and gone, their parents no longer came to sit under her branches.

Our mid-Summer parties had ended as fibromyalgia began to make inroads on my energy and stamina. The circumstances of our lives precluded long summer weekends under the mimosa. Sometimes I used to wonder if 9/11 had changed the tempo of all our lives.

Whatever the reason, the mimosa’s limbs began to weaken and break off, leaves were fewer and frail, even the few blossoms weren’t enough to make enough that essence-of-summer perfume. The bench under the tree started to fall apart, in sympathy perhaps.

We talked about getting a tree man in to come. The Baron spoke to someone at church to get the name of the man who took care of the trees in the churchyard. Soon, soon.

We settled on having the tree man come in this June, but the B has been too busy to arrange a date for him to arrive with his helpers and his cherry picker. We weren’t in a hurry; there was no concern that the tree could cause any harm in a storm; it wasn’t near enough to any structure to do that.

I stood looking at that huge section of tree, a few wisps of green still hanging on. Amazing that there were still any channels left to deliver water that far up a very hollow hulk. And then I remembered – as I’d been remembering all day long – today was the 11th anniversary of my daughter’s death . And that limb lying there was her doing; I was sure of it. Just in case we were tempted to spend her day busy on the computer or talking on the phone instead of paying attention to her, Shelagh made sure we had plenty of free time to reminisce. If you’d known Shelagh, you’d know my conclusion was simply a logical extension of who she’d been while she was here. Who’s to say that death changes our character?

Every year I’ve done something or other on the anniversary of her death. Her favorite flower was lily of the valley so often our memorial for her involves planting randomly in public places she liked. We don’t ask permission – that was never her style – we simply plant the flower corms in or around her old haunts. Something, somewhere to make her laugh. This was the first year I’d decided not to do anything…just to let her memory be and appreciate who she was. Thus, I have little doubt that the loud thunk of that mimosa limb, taking our source of communication to the outside world with it, was her response.

Shelagh was a drama queen but one with a wonderful wit and a sly sense of humor. She could light up a room just by walking in. She could also darken a door when the blackness loomed. We have often viewed her untimely death as a surcease for her and for those of us dedicated to getting her to a place of wholeness. We were all so very fatigued just trying to hold on to her, to keep her with us.

Sometimes the only path to wholeness is through the valley of death. That’s not a via she would ever have purposely chosen: the notion of death terrified her and she wrestled with the horror of mortality from the time she was very small. Like the mimosa, she would not have aged well, but, oh, while they were here, what a pair they were!

I’m glad her sense of humor is intact. And she did get her way: we spent leisurely hours in conversation, not only about her but also about the amazing turns our paths have taken since she left us.

6 thoughts on “Attention, Please…

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Dymphna. It’s very moving and enriching, too. To you and the Baron, I’m sorry for your loss. Here’s to Shelagh.

  2. Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. Your grasp of life, life’s little details, and what comes after, is inspiring.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this – it helps give me insight into the lives of others. I nearly died as an infant and still suffer the effects of ‘failure to thrive’ syndrome – thank God for a caring grandmother I lived. But living with a mother who was mentally ill and not interested in motherhood except as it benefited her, well that didn’t help. So nice to know that some mothers actually care, and that some people have family lives.

    • My heavens! So much to pack into a small paragraph

      Yes, a caring grandmother is truly something to be thankful for.

      You don’t say what your mother’s “mental illness” was – nor am I asking you for details. However, it probably controlled her behavior far more profoundly than she’d ever be able to address. Our understanding of how the brain works is extremely limited, though you’d never know it from seeing the pharmaceutical ads.

      “Failure to thrive” is one of my favorite euphemisms. As if it were the infant’s or child’s fault that they weren’t “thriving” – whatever that means. That said, there is lots you can do now to thrive.

      You’ve given me lots to think about…thank you.

Comments are closed.