A Tiny Rosebush


86th BirthdayI was in the grocery checkout line picking up some last-minute items for dinner.  It was Sunday and our first weekend of skiing and trying out our new seasonal rental was coming to a close.  I was tired, but feeling good with all of the fresh air and renewed friendship that had transpired over the past two days.  As I was piling my items onto the belt something to my right caught my eye.  I turned and there in front of me were miniature rosebushes, the kind you see this time of year in the stores.  In that instant my mood fell and I began to cry.  Not big sobs but my eyes welled with tears.

A tiny rosebush, similar to this one, was the last gift my sister Roxann and I gave to our mother before she passed away last February.  A small token meant to provide comfort and perhaps help guide her way to heaven.  At least that was a tale we had heard.

When my mother died, I was more than ready for her to leave this earth.  She had been struggling with dementia for years and had spent the last six of them either living with me or near me.  During those years I was the one who watched, almost daily, as she slid into dementia.  Consequently, I knew she was ready and most of her children agreed, that her struggle with this life should end.  After she passed and the initial exhilaration of having more free time ran out, I found myself grieving for the mother I once knew.  I grieved for the mother who taught me to cook as I stood in a chair in the kitchen stirring tomato soup.  I grieved for the mother who found her calling working with students as a teacher and counselor.  I grieved for the mother I had hoped I would connect more with me as an adult, but we never quite got there.

Grief is a funny thing.  You can be enjoying yourself and the next moment, because of a song, or a scent or a rosebush, your mood changes and you find yourself sad and crying.  Causing those around you to worry and question what has just happened.  These moments also make me, at least, realize I am not doing as well as I thought; that my recovery over the loss of my mother will continue to take time.  Memories remain with us for our lifetime, both the good and the bad. But, I hope, with time, my sadness will wane and my memories will become more of gladness as I remember the special moments my mother shared with me.

Skiing Fast and Slow


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnlike my husband, I am not a morning person. He jumps from bed, showers, dresses and heads out the door on a run.  The whole time contemplating his goals for the day, and, all this completed with a smile on his face.

I, in turn, do not wake up and leap from bed humming tunes and exclaiming what a wonderful day it is.  I wake up slowly, first one eye, then the other.  I roll over a few more times relishing the notion of going back to sleep.  Everything I want to complete that day does not come roaring to my conscious forcing me awake.  Instead, I rise slowly, sit on the edge of the bed, stretch and then with an arthritic wobble head into the bathroom.  While waiting for the water to warm up I stand in a daze, trying to clear my head.  When the flow becomes tepid, I ritualistically wash my face and brush my teeth. This task accomplished, I grab my robe and head downstairs using the handrails as guides.  As I trip over the cats I mumble good morning to them and impatiently wait for the coffee to brew.  Then, with mug in hand, I sit down, read the paper and watch the news.  I hatch.

My husband is also a rabid skier.  He is the kind of person, who puts the deck furniture away in September in anticipation of the ski season.  Best to be prepared and not waste a weekend working around the house when one could be on the slopes. Because of his passion, he taught our daughters to ski.  So well in fact, that they became alpine racers.   Ski team practice can start as early as 7:00 am.  In the winter this means the whole morning routine is a struggle in the dark.  You drive to the mountain in the dark, try to find coffee in the dark and wait for the attendants to let the racers on the lifts early, in the dark. To any normal person this is a very sadistic approach to skiing.

For nine years, every weekend in the winter I was forced to become a morning person.  Before daylight I was thrown from my bed by the screaming alarm.  With the cozy smell of wood smoke coaxing me back to sleep, I hurriedly brushed my teeth and washed my face, the whole time contemplating about what to pack for lunch.  Next, I scrambled to the kitchen, dug the food out of the cupboards and refrigerator and hurled it into the cooler.  At the same time, my husband tossed breakfast on the table and the girls choked it down while struggling into their tight, long underwear.  As the family hustled for the door and into the frigid Adirondack winter air, I flung clothing into my ski bag, while listening to the weather man describe wind chill temperatures.  Consequently, on ski mornings, I became a mad woman with an agenda.

At our home mountain, Gore, my husband and I have season’s passes.  We often ski in groups with other racer parents.  Many of them are fanatical, just like my husband.  As the sun begins to rise over the mountain, spreading light across the groomed hill, the extreme skiers rush into the lodge, gulping down their coffee as they apply layers of clothing.  With concentration they bend over and strain to buckle up their boots. The atmosphere is very businesslike, no joking.   The mantra is, boots, skis, poles you really don’t need anything else.   With military precision the group rushes out the door, racing each other to the lift.  Heaven forbid they are not on the first gondola ride up and achieve first tracks on the run down.  In the almost empty lodge, a draft of frosty air glides in through the swinging doors and lazily wraps itself around those left inside.

I often do not make this initial run.  After all I am hatching.  I sip my coffee, pick through my clothing and decide how many pieces I want to wear.  I chat with the others left behind as we casually make our way to the lift and get in line with, gasp, non season ticket holders who probably slept pass 6:00am.    My unhurried friends and I ride to the top of the mountain anticipating finding the early crew.  As we travel on the lift we look at the trails below us searching for familiar colored coats.  When we ski down the trails we expectantly look up hoping to see a recognizable face as the chair lift travels over us.   Despite our best efforts we never catch up with the first trackers group.  We are content, skiing at our slower pace, but we have spent a couple of years wondering how the two groups could ski the same trails and never even catch a glimpse of each other.

One bitter cold day, we coffee sippers, decided to go in to the lodge at the top of the mountain. To our astonishment, there sat the first trackers in a large cluster warming their toes and having a snack discussing the morning’s early runs.  We had finally found them in the place we never would have thought to look. They had been here, in this toasty room, with a roaring fireplace and hot chocolate, on those frigid mornings we skied looking for them.  In amazement, we discovered, the first trackers would take a few fast; get on the mountain before anyone else runs, but after that, they always took a 10:00 am break.  This was why, our second out the door, unhurried group, could never find them.  My friends and I would ski run after run thinking we were the slackers.  Only at lunch would we take a break.  We would come in exhausted and freezing, mistakenly assuming the others had been on the slopes all morning like us.  They would come in, a few minutes later laughing, not breathing hard, and very relaxed.  It was disconcerting wondering how the first trackers spent all that time on the slopes but somehow did not look as tired as we did.   Now the truth was out.  Suddenly, I was no longer feeling guilty for taking my time at the break of day.  I simply had a different approach to the whole morning and skiing business.

My daughters have both moved on to college.  They no longer ski race.  My husband and I are not compelled by a schedule to be at the mountain.  But it is already December.  The days are short, the nights long.  Coldness lurks around the corner.  The deck furniture has long since been put away.  My husband has the skis waxed and ready.  Lately, I have been contemplating the idea that all ski lifts should open at 10:00 am.  Then the first trackers and the coffee sippers could all head to the lift together and get that first run at a decent hour.