July is always a little sad for me. Sure, I enjoy watching the neighbors set off illegal fireworks, but the further we get into the month, the “harder” it becomes. No, it’s not because of the unbearable heat. In fact, this July it’s been rather pleasant in San Antonio. We’ve had so much rain that my garden is full of tasty veggies and fruits. But July is also the birthdays of two of the most important people in my life. People who are watching me from Heaven and not down here to give me a hug or some encouragement when I need it.
I’ve said before that God blessed me with two mothers. My birth mother and my “other” mother, who had gone to school with my parents and became as important to me as my own mother. Mom’s birthday was 22 July, and Ilene’s was 24 July. That’s why July really isn’t one of my favorite months. It used to be, but instead of celebrating birthdays I now find myself missing them more than normal. Yes, I know they’re a heck of a lot happier where they are now, but I’m selfish.
Like most daughters, I had a love/hate relationship with my mother for many years. As we both got older, that changed. Drastically changed. When she died, I really did lose one of my best friends. I don’t know what I’d have done when my first husband, Bruce, got cancer if she didn’t live two doors away. She’d stay with him during the day while I worked.
Every day when I came home, the front door would be open, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. As stupid as it sounds, if I could see through the screen door into the living room, I knew everything was okay. Stupid because if something had happened, she’d have called me at work instead of waiting for me to come home. I figured she was just making it easy for me to get into the house, and not signaling it was okay to enter. It wasn’t until after Bruce died that I found out I was wrong. It was a signal. As different as we were, in some ways we shared the same brain, so she hadn’t felt the need to tell me what was really going on.
My mom lives in my library now. Well, her ashes do, because I know where she really is. I was going to scatter her ashes somewhere, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do that. There is a set of windchimes in the tree right outside the library window. I never really heard the chimes when I was working on my computer. The night she died, I was in there and the windchimes were ringing up a storm. To my little peabrain, that was Mom telling me she’s okay, she’s happy, and she’ll be keeping an eye on me. So, her body may be on a bookshelf, but her soul is in Heaven, with occasional visits to the chimes to let me know she’s watching, and I better behave.
Invariably when someone dies, there is that one thing you have that connects you in a way nothing else can. For Mom, it’s windchimes and Grace. Grace is my 30” doll from when I was about six years old. Mom saved her for me. I can honestly say that nothing my mom ever bought for me can come close to how much I love Grace. She has her own wardrobe and is always prominently displayed in the living room, wearing one of her many seasonal outfits.
Not a day in my life goes by that I don’t think of Ilene. It would be hard not to, because when I was stationed in Sacramento a hundred years ago, she bought me a folding chair for the kitchen. I can sit down to keep an eye on the oven, eat dinner at the island, or stand on the step to reach a high shelf. I love that chair. So much so that I finally found one just like it and bought it for backup. The one Ilene bought is so old and Ed’s replaced bolts on it a bunch of times. One of these days it’ll probably fall apart when I’m sitting on it, but I’m still using it. Why? Because my other mother loved me enough to buy it, and I love her enough to keep using it. Like the windchimes, it keeps me connected.
I had another close friend, Lloyd, who died from cancer. When I started writing the great American novel, Lloyd decided I should have a very old typewriter. Long story short, I looked at antique places until I found just the right one. It’s in the library, not too far from a photograph of Lloyd. He made a trip to Arizona and had his picture taken in front of the motel that has rooms shaped like teepees. Why? Because he remembered me saying that as a child I was fascinated by that motel. He got his picture taken, had it framed, and gave it to me. Another person that left a big hole in my heart when he died, but also left me something special to remember him by.
It’s funny what we hang on to when someone we love passes. I walk around the backyard, watering plants, and see Mom’s windchimes. After Ilene died, I bought a beautiful birdbath I knew she’d love. I have a steppingstone with the word “Hope” on it, to commemorate another close friend, Hope, who died from cancer. I named a peach tree after my sister’s husband, once Pat died. Linda might not be my biological sister, but she was Ilene’s daughter, so as far as I’m concerned, she’s my sister. I named one of the peach trees Princess, for Linda. Granted, she isn’t dead, but I knew Pat’d be happier beside her and not some stranger, so done deal. And, yes, I name trees. Your point? They must like being named, because they supply us with plenty of fruit. The peaches are so sweet it’s like eating candy, if we can beat the birds to them. I went a little crazy on growing black-eyed peas this year. Watering or picking the peas instantly transports me back to our farm, where Daddy had several acres planted in peas. When I’m out there with them, I know Daddy is looking down and proud of me for growing his favorite food.
The point of all this is simple. When someone we love dies, the best thing we can do is find our windchimes. It’s one thing to know we’ll see them again, assuming they’re a Christian, but it’s so much easier to tolerate the loneliness if we have something tangible to hang on to. Yes, we have memories. Yes, we have photographs. But instead of the five (or seven depending on the expert) stages of grief, there should be one more. Find something tangible that reminds you of them and hang on to that. Does it make it hurt any less? Probably not. But windchimes, and birdbaths really do keep July from being totally sucky.