I spun around at the end of the driveway, garbage bags in hand. I looked up at the window above the garage. The window was closed. The room was dark. It was just my imagination.
I could have sworn I heard my mom whisper, “Helloooo!”, in her familiar garbage-night whisper. Loud enough for me to hear her from one story up, but not loud enough to wake the neighbors.
Every week for years we had the same ritual. One of us would remember around midnight that it was the night to put the garbage out. If you knew either one of us, you would know why we couldn’t wait and put it out in the morning. We were not morning people. So, it had to go out to the curb the night before.
We divided the chore along natural lines. She did the cooking, the kitchen was her domain, so she handled the kitchen garbage. She hated bagging everything up and hauling the bags to the curb, so I handled that. Plus, whenever I did the kitchen garbage, I would inevitably miss the bottle of salad dressing I had no idea she had been planning all week to put out with the trash.
I had no patience for how incredibly long it took her to get the kitchen garbage ready to go out. She was meticulous about cleaning out the fridge. “What day did I make this potato salad? Is this milk still good? I’m going to drink the milk that’s left in this container then put it in with the trash.” All very responsible and mom-like. And all very annoying when you’re standing by the trash can rolling your eyes and waiting. I eventually started telling her to just let me know when it was ready.
So, while she sniff tested dairy products, I watched tv in my bedroom and waited to be called upon. When she would shout, “kitchen’s ready!” I would start my part of the process while she headed to her bedroom to watch tv.
When she would hear the garage door go up she would go to her window that looked out over the driveway. As I was walking to the curb with the garbage bags, I would hear her window open and, in that well-known whisper, “Helloooo!”
It was usually one o’clock in the morning by this point, pitch dark, neighbors asleep, not a big chance of being seen by anyone other than a passing motorist. So, I would shout-whisper hello back, wave, and usually do something to make my mom laugh. You may find this hard to believe (or you may not), but I am a ham. I have to know you pretty well before you’ll see that side of me, but it’s there. And I loved to make my mom laugh, so I would usually stand in the driveway, pantomime something stupid, then take an exaggerated bow. And she always laughed. She was my best audience.
Last night when I looked up at her window my audience was gone. But, it had seemed so real. I actually heard her.
I’ve taken the garbage out approximately 40 times since she passed away last December and this is the first time I have had this experience.
Why last night? I have no idea.
A song lyric came to mind last night after I thought I heard my mom whisper to me.
“Last night I swear I could feel you moving through my room.
I thought you touched my feet. I so wanted it to be true…”
Those are lines from the song “Like A River”, music and lyrics written by Carly Simon after her own mother passed away. I am a huge Carly Simon fan. My mom and I used to listen to Carly’s music in the car. When the song, “Like A River” came up, my mom would usually make me skip it. It’s a beautiful song. We both liked it, but my mom did not like to have anything to do with discussing death. It made her too sad.
The first few times this song randomly came up on my playlist in my car after my mom died I immediately skipped it. It was too much.
It came up a couple of months ago and I let the song play. I sang along and I cried and cried while I sang. And I listened to it four times in a row.
“Like A River” randomly came over my car speakers again last week. I listened and I sang along and I didn’t cry. Well, not as much anyway. I heard it and loved it in an entirely new and different way than I ever had before.
The lyric that makes me catch my breath each time is, “‘Cause you’re already home, Making it nice for when I come.” It is a truly beautiful song and a touching video that intersperses pictures of Carly’s own mother.
I ran across a picture of my mother last night that I love. Actually, it’s a four generations picture (five if you count my Cabbage Patch doll I’m holding). Me, my mom, my grandpa (my mom’s dad), and my great grandma (my mom’s dad’s mom) sitting on the couch at my dad’s parent’s farm house on my ninth birthday.
We all look happy. We were all very close. Three of my favorite people I’ve ever known.
Everyone in that picture is gone now, but me.
Even my Cabbage Patch doll is no longer with me.
I have happy memories of all of them.
Pushing my Cabbage Patch doll, Lisabeth Bertha (Hey, I didn’t name her. Those things came with a birth certificate.), in the doll stroller my mom said she would buy for me if I saved up half the money. I think there had been one too many toys relegated to the back of the closet after impassioned cries at the store of “Yes, I PROMISE I will play with it!” But, I was serious about the stroller. I saved for weeks, came up with the $17, mom paid the rest, and I played with it for a long time.
My mom and I visiting my great grandma in her apartment. I was still young when she passed away, but I remember how sweet she was to me whenever I saw her.
My grandpa and I had a very special relationship. He passed away in 2009, but we had been close since the moment, as a little one just learning to talk, I shouted “G’PA!” in the middle of the church service while I was sitting on his lap, listening to him repeat the words “say grrrraaaandpa” in my ear. He loved to tell that story. Boy could he tell a story. I can still picture the sly smile on his face whenever he told that one. He and I sat for hours on end, year after year, in the car, in the mall while my mom and grandma shopped, in restaurants, in his living room, him rocking in his chair, telling me stories of his younger days, me listening with rapt attention, even if I’d heard the story many times before. I know this is where part of my love for history and personal storytelling comes from. My grandpa deserves his own post here someday.
My mom. When I turn 59, the same age my mom was when she passed away, I will have lived 23 years of my life without her. A fact that is unfathomable to me. I have more memories of my mom than I could possibly spill out of my head at this moment.
Happy memories, all of them. But right now, even the happy memories are tinged with the sadness of the realization that they are now only memories. The only memories I will get of these people. I won’t get to make any more. So I better enjoy the ones I have.
Memories eventually fade. Unless you record them. I need to make time to record them sooner rather than later.
These things that are so vivid, you think you will always remember them, but you won’t.
Do me a favor, next time a happy memory unexpectedly pops into your head, grab something to record it. Speak it into your phone, type a note and email it to yourself, or if, like me, you occasionally like to roll old school, grab a pen and a scrap of paper and write it down.
Someday you may be glad you did.