It’s mid-August, the 13th to be exact, a day fraught with bustling clatter and dripping water and tender reminders of mortality. I look to my mom, working yarn between three sets of needles with a precision and gentleness – I look to her again, and again. 62 years old in two days, evidenced only by the care lines penciled by her mouth and folds beneath her mint hued eyes referencing bursting smiles from the past. Her soul is of a different grain. I know it pulls her earthward, causes those little kinks in her back or hip that aren’t so much debilitating as inconvenient. I plant a few tea bags in the pitcher of boiling water and barely wince as it lightly splashes against my hand. My mom is turning 62. I listen to the needles clip together and it sounds like clocks tapping out the seconds and minutes. I suck in my breath and store it in my lungs, just to hear the click and snap of socks in progress. The sound builds and whorls around my body, prodding my skin until it dissolves into my blood and drifts into my pulsing heart. In there the sound nests in all four chambers. Soon my heartbeat resembles the clip of sewing needles, beating rhythmically with each knit and purl of her project and stopping only when she adjusts her hands to begin a new row. Mother and daughter, soldered together by the strings of a sock. If the needles fell to the floor and sprawled themselves on the carpet unmoving, what would I be but a collection of threads ripped up in the tumble cycle of grief? I pray the needles continue purling while stirring the tea.
I started preparing for her birthday feast a few weeks ahead of time, writing and rewriting recipes for four courses and pulling the fibers of my hair in an attempt to evoke a dessert from some cavity of my brain. Like all delicious things in life, the resulting dishes were altered last minute just before wandering into the market for supplies. One was erased after shopping. A stalk of ginger rounded into the shape of a juicy peach, small glasses filled themselves with rich chocolate mousse, and lavender flowers wilted from the stem, crumbled to ash, and shot skyward in a bright cascade of hibiscus. Sometimes you plant the seed and something different sprouts from the soil. I wonder if she’s though the same of me as she nurtured me (and continues to do so) into and through adulthood. If she dumped too much of one ingredient into the bowl. Knowing my mom, perhaps she said “oops” once or twice, but instead of dumping the batter down the sink she picked up her spoon and counterbalanced the bitter- or sourness with a generous extra tablespoon of love. She has barrels of that ingredient in her larders. Love curls from her lips when she smiles and glows from her eyes like moonlight on undulating ocean waves. It manifests in the stringy gray hairs sprouting from her scalp and the fold of her arms when she hugs. I offer all of the daily catch of love I haul into the morning and regift a few dozen boxes extra.
My mom is 62 and appears not a day older than 40. She knits and sews, walks for 20 minutes every day, somehow manages to spread the ideal amount of maple syrup atop filets of salmon, dresses more stylishly than I on a daily basis.
Birthdays leave a good deal of room for lament and dwellings on an unknown cycle of 365 days laying before the present. Droplets of time passed and time to come, and who knows if a birthday is the last and thereafter and forever a pile of dishes will remain in the sink until anyone’s hands except the owner’s arrive to clean them and pack them into new boxes. I pick up my phone every day and text my mom for the sole assurance that she is doing okay. I dread the idea of an August 15th approaching without my messages lighting up from “Mom Z. Pan.” The thought oft shatters my sleep. Perhaps my voice, virtual or in real-time, will coax the winds to breathe another year into her lifespan. So far it’s worked. And I don’t intend to jinx the fortune.
I am a dreadful gift-giver. Shelves and drawers are only sturdy enough to hold a certain weight of objects, so I approached her birthday by another angle. Her part of the feast was washing spinach and providing me ideas for dessert. Otherwise I shooed her out of the kitchen and warbled through the afternoon in a song of clanging utensils and some sporadic off-key humming of Lord of the Rings tunes. At suppertime I packed away the bowls and utensils while the barley still steamed and rain clouds watched from the east, and headed to the back porch, a last-minute crunch in plans due to the blasted Floridian heat. I set the table and dished out the courses, starting with biscuits and ending with mousse. We clinked glasses while water tapped from the eaves of the balcony. For once, the noise did not render visions of a timepiece stopping and melting like the Dali clock. It drew me into an evening fragrant with hibiscus & lit by flickering sunshine and the streams of love connecting us and, like a metronome, keeping the time of our beating hearts. Together, toasting another year lived, and a great number of them to come.
It’s been a touch since I last updated you with a random ramblings roundup, so here’s some notes about what I’ve been up to in my hobbit hole.
- French press coffee has garnered a further respect for the art & science & engineering of coffee. A practice which usually took me two minutes in the morning now takes 10-15. The result is incomparable. I highly suggest all of you coffee guzzlers like me to invest in an alternative, manual brewing method. Choose your poison: press, pour-over…Possibilities are various and sundry!
- The roommate situation is a positive report. Erin is amusing and unobtrusive, and I genuinely enjoy our brief kitchen conversations when I’m reheating coffee or fumbling around the refrigerator for a morsel. I fear our electric bill at the end of the month. Three cheers for emptying wallets!
- I landed a job I actually don’t dread going to. I am relieved. I received the summons on Friday the 14th and nearly tipped over with joy. You can find me behind the counter of a cafe slinging lattes; according to all of my managers, I’m doing extremely well and advancing much faster than most.
- I am eager for fall. Even though the steamy windows & glaring sunlight of Florida barely rest and autumn is a figment of fiction, I still anticipate the arrival of burnt orange decor and shelves of canned pumpkin. I have some exciting recipes jotted in my notebook, and I look forward to sharing them all with you. I look forward to sharing all my new and notables (or not so) with you.
Summer Feast: Birthday Edition
Fresh buttermilk biscuits
Whipped maple butter
Hibiscus flower lemonade
Warm barley & steamed spinach salad
Basil peach vinaigrette
Toppings: sliced strawberries, almonds, fresh grated Parmesan