Saturday, November 28, 2009

Let Me Count the Ways

by Zinta Aistars

I can try. Count the blessings, attitude of gratitude, but my life is too short to sort through them all. Yes, that's how many. One counted, another pops up to the surface, and so I note the greatest blessings of all - my family. Beside it, good health, and not only mine, but the health of my family.

I latch onto these great blessings even as Thanksgiving as planned unravels. It is clearly a blessing that my daughter, Blondie aka Lorena, has just been offered a job ... offered on Tuesday, to begin on Wednesday. She is now deputy campaign manager for Robyn Gabel, candidate for Representative of the 18th District in Illinois, House of Representatives. There is no time to waste. There will be no free weekends, no holidays. But since Robyn understood that Thursday, one day into the job, Lorena had had long-held plans, she released her for the day, even as she kept working herself. I admired her work ethic, even while sighing with relief that I would get to see my girl, if only for part of the day instead of the holiday weekend.

Lorena's apartment in Lincoln Park, Chicago, is normally little more than a two-hour drive to my place in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This time, she was leaving directly from Robyn Gabel's campaign headquarters in Evanston. Bag packed in the trunk of her Honda, she was ready to go the minute her work day was over. Robyn shooed her away at 2 p.m., but Lorena had a few things to do before she was done ... 3 p.m. she was on the road, I-94 winding through the Windy City, around the southern bend of Lake Michigan.

Only the city wouldn't release her. Eve before Thanksgiving, everyone else had the same idea. Three hours later, she called from her cell: "Mama, I'm still bumper to bumper in Chicago."

I took a deep breath, counted a few more blessings, and told her not to worry. She will get here when she gets here. And then I glanced over at my son, Markus. Those two adore each other. From the time they were two little rascals, not a full two years apart in age, and from the moment toddler Lorena saw that little dark-haired bundle that I had brought home from the hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, and kicked him soundly in the head ... I'm not sure if to see if the little bundle was alive or just out of pure toddler indignation at usurped house status ... they have rooted their hearts deeply into each other. Thick and thin. Hard and soft. Rough and rocky. All three of us musketeers have had lives that would make sad novels (one hopes with glorious endings), but perhaps that, too, has something to do with why their bond is of such steel.

He had gotten out of work early in hopes of seeing her. He, too, would not have release from obligations this holiday, and there was just tonight, the eve of the holiday, and hardly that. Markus leaned against my dining room table, pondering the dinner I had set before him, and tried not to look at his watch. Between her arrival and his departure, the window of opportunity for a meeting was fast closing.

I held my cast iron pan over his plate and let five fried eggs slide onto the plate. His favorite meal, no matter the time of day, was bacon and eggs. I had told him about my trip earlier in the week to a sweet little five-acre farm, owned by the Wyllys family, in Battle Creek - the same town where he worked, just east of Kalamazoo. Both eggs and bacon were organic, from chickens and hogs raised on traditional farms. While I had purchased the bacon at an organic market here, the eggs came from the Wyllys farm, and they were something to behold. Yolks like miniature suns in setting, a deep golden hue, plump to bursting, and even the whites of the eggs were plump, not runny like supermarket eggs. It did my mama's heart good to serve him something that was good and good for him.

I told him yet again about the farm and the turkey I brought home, too, for roasting tomorrow. Anything to keep him from looking at his watch again.

Another hour had gone by. We had less than a half hour left before he would have to leave.

I tried not to worry about the Chicago traffic, the fine rain coming down, the dark of the night growing to a silty sky, smearing out the stars.

She called. I let him pick up. He settled into the corner of the couch, stretched out his long legs, and talked quietly. I could understand from what he said that she was still sitting in standstill city traffic, lucky if inching ahead at 10 miles per hour.

I sighed, quietly so he wouldn't hear me, and went to putz in the kitchen so they could at least talk for a while. The connection would obviously not happen, not this Thanksgiving, as their busy lives would pull them apart. And then I realized ... that wasn't true. The connection had never broken. I could hear his warm chuckle. I could hear him tease. I could hear him tell her the million little stories of his daily life, then grow quiet to listen to hers.

I remembered when he was perhaps only five or six years old, and some much older boys had been teasing his Blondie sister in our Kentucky neighborhood. There were many of them, one frightened little girl in the middle, and one kid brother that had become fierce with indignation. The mouse roared. Little fists like hard chestnuts raised in the air, he snarled like an angry little pup ... and they retreated. He was such a shy and quiet child then, but his loyalty was fierce, and is still. Watching him grow up, I had seen him do battle again and again for what he believed in and always for those he loved. He had taken some truly hard knocks to stand his place, yet not once retreated. He was a bearded man now, six feet one, with the most powerful and muscled shoulders I'd ever had chance to lean on, great hands that I'd seen snap thick limbs from an old tree in my yard like matchsticks, and one of the softest hearts I'd ever encountered in a man. And she, his sister, was forever trying to make the world a better place ...

I could hear him laugh in the other room, still chatting on the phone with his sister. The minutes were ticking away, he would have to leave soon. They would not meet this holiday. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. Silly old Mom. Blessings, indeed. Two great ones in my life, giving mine meaning. If I do nothing else with my life, I've done good and I've done right, for all my various mistakes, and I've done myself proud by raising those two.


"Mom. I've got to go now."

I nodded. She would still be at least a couple hours, but he would have to leave, and tomorrow we would not see him. "I'll save you turkey," I said. "Fat sammich. Lots of mayo like you like it."

He grinned and hugged me, sappy sad happy mama that I was, and didn't ask about my watery eyes. Old enough to be wise.

Oh, that turkey on this Thanksgiving! It was the best yet, truly. How I loved putzing in the kitchen with Blondie, who arrived near 11 p.m. the night before, but woke in time on the holiday to help me put the bird in the oven, prepare the stuffing, roast the slices of yam with butter and brown sugar, roast the biggest potatoes I'd ever seen, the size of hams, and stir up the cranberry sauce. Lorena made the best gravy I'd ever tasted, ever. Perhaps it was the organic bird's juices, so rich with flavor. Perhaps it was her touch. We ate our meal, saying grace one after the other, ate to bursting, laughing and licking fingers, dropping delicious tidbits to the great-eyed pup under the table. Before the day was over, she would leave again, back to Chicago, back to work, back to do her part to make the world she lived in that much better. She still believed the world could heal, and so, watching her, did I.

So, watching her leave, as I had watched him leave, swimming eyes, heart floating on gratitude, I knew my world was perfect by two.

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