Monday, May 04, 2009

Shadows and clouds

It's a dark, rainy Sunday morning in NYC. We are far from home. We learned last night that Paul's mother is in hospital, so we are going to phone every day. He, or all three of us, may go home early. So there is a shadow over us.

As I write, Joel is having his first shaving lesson. I can hear the twinned voices of my partner and child, just working away on the same wavelength of reason and instruction; question and answer. The timbres of their voices are completely distinctive, but also similar.

Before Joel disappeared into the bathroom, I ran my hand over his cheek and could feel that, yes, the down was no longer quite so downy; and indeed, the shadow of the moustache that has been growing for a few months now was starting to look a bit untidy.

For the first three or four years of his life, Joel's two grandmothers would each come and spend a day with him once a week. When it was Jean's turn, she would bring books, musical instruments, a tape recorder and tapes, and different selections of toys and games. They would have boiled eggs for lunch, and kept collections of "egg people", the upside-down shells of the eggs, decorated with different faces and hair, in the egg cartons on the window sill. She would also bring her camera; we have wonderful photos of those days they spent together.

When Paul and his brother and sister were still very young, she trained as a kindergarten, then a primary school teacher, and by the time of her first heart attack in 1990, she was the principal of the large junior school in one of Melbourne's most elite private schools.

The years Jean would come to care for Joel were in the times before we re-built the back half of our house. I am not exaggerating when I say the bare concrete floor was cracked and uneven; that the elm trees at the front of the house were sending up suckers where the floor boards ended and the concrete began; that the ceiling of the kitchen was covered in specks of plaster; that many of the walls were bare lathe and plaster. Jean would sweep and sweep, and one day discovered the reason why she could never finish getting the floor under the cupboards (themselves sitting on piles of bricks) truly clean was because there was a gap between floor and wall: she was actually sweeping the garden into the house. It was brutally cold in winter, though not unpleasant in the little sun-drenched area next to the laundry. On sunny summer afternoons, that area was unbearable.

She and Joel would sing and laugh and play music much of the day. Of her six grandchildren, Joel is the one who carries that music in his body. Not only does he play and sing; he plays in the air, with his hands, even when he makes no sound.

Eight or nine years ago, after Jean had recovered from two more smaller heart attacks, she said to Joel that she hoped, if he married, she would be able to come to his wedding. "Of course, Nan", he said, not understanding why she wouldn't.

He has emerged from the bathroom, quietly pleased, the smooth contours of his face more precisely defined. Without the shadow of that moustache, he looks, in one sense, younger. But there is no doubt that today, he has also grown up a little more. In these shadows, in these clouds, we are all growing up a little more.

5 comments:

Suse said...

What a lovely post about your son and your mother-in-law. Milestones (good and bad) are so much more poignant when you are away from home.

I hope your MIL regains her health. I will be thinking of you and your family.

Pavlov's Cat said...

What Suse said. Sending loving thoughts and virtual crossed fingers that all will be well with Jean, whom I remember well from the night we all went to the opera. xx

Nokomi said...

I have to echo the sentiments of the comments above. There was such a beautiful melancholy to this post, and while I wish for the best of health for your belle mére, it has obviously put you in quite a poignant reflective mood and we are the fortunate recipients of your gorgeous prose. Thank you and best to you all.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, all.

Jean is home from hospital, now, and resting quietly until she can undergo some more tests next week. Remembering to breathe, now.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

What a melancholy and beautiful post, Stephanie: you convey so well the ache of loss (a loss of a parent yet to come, the loss of a boy to the man he is becoming). You are in my thoughts.