I may rename this blog All the Things I Refuse to Speak About. Last week (this one, too), it was politics. This week it is my mother’s cancer.
The bird-of-the-week (I haven’t forgotten you, junco. You have kept me company these difficult days in Westerly at one of several of my mother’s feeders), is the Cooper’s Hawk.
Christmastime, she sat in the neighbors’ tree eyeing the buffet outside my mother’s kitchen windows. Didn’t take long for the place to lose all its customers.
I pointed her out one day to my mother who could only make out a dark spot in the leafless branches.
“Is that what happened to all the birds?” she asked. “Next time your brother comes, I’m going to tell him to bring his gun.”
Before I could manage my surprise, she looked at me and smiled, leaning on her walker. “Just kidding,” she said. “But I wish the damned thing would go someplace.”
Go someplace. That’s one of her phrases. When you ask her who her favorite child is. When my husband Dennis says he can’t wait to come talk to her about the Pats returning to the Superbowl next year. When anyone suggests she might benefit from a hearing aid.
And maybe what she would have said to the Cooper’s Hawk once it got bold enough to sit on the hedges outside her front window where my brother installed another feeder that she can see from her recliner. We had drawn the shades so the morning sun didn’t hit her in the eyes and a wing flashed in the slit of light. It cast more shadow than a measly sparrow or one of her omnipresent house finches. When I lifted the shade, the feeder was deserted, but minutes later, the hawk landed, fixing its yellow eye on this side of the glass.
“My god,” I said. “There it is.” An arm’s length away.
Before my mother could see it, the bird vanished. But I witnessed it: the way the creature staked out her territory. The way she made it clear: trespass at your own risk. But trespass.
What is there to say about a February where it is 60 degrees? Yes, when I head downhill each morning for my walk, the wind comes off the river and makes me zip my jacket all the way up, but by the time I’ve turned the corner onto one end of Beach Street or the next, I’ve peeled off mittens and bared my neck to the unseasonable weather.
Fifty four years after I was born right down the street at the Westerly Hospital, I have discovered whole neighborhoods I didn’t know existed. Babcock Street, for example, the kind of eclectic neighborhood contractors have made rare. An American foursquare next door to a 1950’s ranch, across the street from a stone bungalow, a few feet from a modern monstrosity whose garage dwarfs the home’s narrow entrance. This is the kind of neighborhood, I think, that kids could ride bikes around. The kind of neighborhood that fills a schoolbus up and inspires block parties. Except I don’t really see kids riding bikes now or overcrowded busstops or block parties. Instead, for the last two mornings, it has been one man walking a big white shepherd mix and me wondering what it would be like to live in a house different from the one Dennis and I bought over twenty years ago because it reminded me so much of the house I grew up in.
That house. This past week, my brother-in-law Bill sent me a memory stick with dozens of pictures of the farm which I promptly posted on Facebook. This morning, my cousin Rob shook his head. “Those farm pictures,” he said. Now that was a neighborhood. A neighborhood in which we escaped many things that could have killed us.
My brother told a story about crawling into the Harvestore silo to dislodge whatever clogged up the works. “I crawled in with a tool to hack away at the lump of silage gumming stuff up and Tum (our father) held my feet in case he had to pull me out of there in a hurry. There was 6 tons of silage over my head somewhere.”
In one photo, one our fourteen year old hired hands drives the David Brown tractor while my nephew Michael perches on the fender except he’s leaning down, looking over the treads and the hired hand, no doubt thrilled with his job, hurtles along over potholes and tire ruts.
We climbed the 40 foot ladder outside the Big Jim silo on a dare. Jumped barn roof to barn roof, a pack of kids in flip flops.
My brother, my cousin and I shared stories of corn trucks whose brakes gave out in busy intersections or pick-ups whose homemade sides rattled along the Interstate from the shifting weight of the thousand pound yearling bull in its bed, or the pliers pinched onto where other vehicles had gear shifts, or the rotting floorboards through which the highway’s lane lines flashed, or the passenger side doors that flew open when you turned a corner with your four year old passenger, unbuckled, in the seat.
Bulls broke free of their stalls. Cows charged, foolish with the first warm day of the year. Hurricanes knocked silos over. Equipment churned and chugged and stalled and lurched with us at the helm or as passengers. Skittish heifers kicked off their machines and we felt the air whoosh by our cheekbones. We ice skated on ponds that weren’t necessarily frozen solid, smoked in the hayloft, rode standing up in the beds of trucks with no tailgates.
Hawk, you would not have scared us. We were very young and, no doubt, exhausted by the work behind us and the work ahead. We had no idea what to fear.
That was a long time ago.