by Zinta Aistars
I’ve been waiting patiently (well, kind of patiently) to show Z Acres to my son. At last, our schedules and whereabouts mesh, and I get to bring him out to see where his mama now lives—in green and lush and luscious glory, in my century-plus old farmhouse on ten acres. Meanwhile, he is now moving into my previous residence, the new homeowner, tenant for now, perhaps true owner down the road.
When I drive over to his place, once my place, to pick him up, I find him in the garage, tinkering away on various mechanical … things. Half of them I’d be hard put to identify. Things that whir and hum and sizzle with electricity, blink lights on and off, and generally come to mechanical life under his hands. It’s a world about which I have little understanding. As, I suppose, he has little understanding about editing and writing copy and the nuanced subtleties of fine literature.
At times I suspect he fixes things that don’t need fixing. It’s the tinkering that is so enticing to him. Taking things apart and putting them back together again, making things better somehow. There is his love. Just as I tend to take apart copy I’ve written, dismantle sentences and put the pieces back together in revision, making it all read a little bit better.
My son and I are a different breed—yet, of course, we are not. In other ways, we are obvious blood, and we share a similar perspective, mirror a few mannerisms, and our hearts tend to tick to a similar rhythm. There is a bit of a rebel in both of us, chafing at restriction. We are both passionate about the things and the work and the people that we love.
Grease smeared across one cheek, hands deep into some engine, I can see it will be a while yet, so I wander inside while he finishes up what he is doing. Ach, such a bachelor pad! My house has changed personalities completely. My things are gone, replaced by his few belongings. The living room is still mostly empty, where my dining room table had been is now empty space, and my usually empty sink is now filled with dirty dishes.
Not giving it any thought, I roll up my sleeves and turn on the hot water. I rinse the dishes and arrange them in the dishwasher, fill it with detergent and turn it on. While the dishes wash, I head upstairs, see the unmade bed, and I rip off the bedspread and sheets to make it neat again. I plump pillows. I pick up dirty socks and drop them in the hamper. I replace an empty toilet paper roll. I empty a wastebasket. I straighten a framed painting on the wall.
Getting a bit hungry, dinnertime, after all, I peer into his refrigerator and see what’s available for a quick meal. I know he loves breakfast any time of day, so I put a pan on the stove and turn up the heat, crack several eggs and sizzle a few slices of bacon. I slice cheese and bread.
By the time he steps inside to wash up, his house is neat again, a warm plate awaits, and I can’t resist patting a loose wisp of hair on his forehead, brushing it back. I watch him eat with contentment.
“Ready?” I chirp. “Can’t wait to show you my new old place!”
Oh, he knows. I’ve said it a thousand times. And he has pretty much just nodded, each time, raised an eyebrow, listened. My son is a quiet man, a man of few to no words, and as if to compensate, when I am with him, I tend to become a chatterbox. All the way to Z Acres, I bubble thoughts and wishes and ponderings and random rhetorical questions and ideas and a lot of nonsense. He listens.
Such silent rivers run deep, however. Now and then, when my son opens up for a moment, he tends to take my breath away with an intriguing flash of innovative thought, a fresh perspective, or, most often, some one-liner that instantly spins me into fits of laughter. His dry humor gets me right there.
When we pull into the long drive that tunnels through woods at Z Acres, I sense a shift in him. He has come to attention. I can tell by the way he lifts his head that he likes what he sees. He steps from the car, takes it all in for a moment, then nods.
“Yeah. Pretty cool.”
I make a little jump. Yippee!
I give him the grand tour, and he makes comments on this and that, and I know it’s all good. We switch gears to things that need to be done. I’m not sure how that happens, but we are soon talking about this that could use a tweak, and this that could use tightening, and that thing there that could use a fix of some kind.
Mind you, I have this place in great order. With loving care, I have managed to take care of all of it. Sure, the riding mower sits in the tool shed unused, but I am an environmentally responsible person—I avoid engines when I can and opt for push power. I routinely mow near two acres of my land around the house with a push mower. I’ve done whatever tweaking and tightening as needed here, and I’ve even snaked the pond pipes to clear them when the pond threatened to go over its edges. I’ve plowed through fields of grass, I’ve started a garden, and the house is neat and orderly.
Still, when I see him unpack his big and monstrously heavy toolbox from the trunk, I’m glad. Trained as an electrician, I know it will take him but a moment to get that moody light switch in the bathroom working just right. And he does. In half a moment. He explains to me what he’s done, and I blink a lot.
The riding mower gets his attention next. It’s sat in the tool shed since last summer, I’m sure, unused, but he coaxes the engine, dribbles gas into it, leans closer to listen to its heartbeat as he brings it back to life. The shed door open, he drives it out into the field with a thundering noise and flying dust. The field that I have mown by push mower over hours of work, he zips back and forth across it and trims it down to neatness in no time.
“Come on, your turn,” he waves me over. “I’m sure you want to learn this, too.”
I do! I hoist up my skirt above my knees and straddle the seat, starting to blink a lot again as I assess all those gears and pedals on the old machine. Choke and throttle, lower mower and lift it again, speed notches there and speed gears here …
My son gives me lessons and sets me off, and I’m grinning as I make the first turn. He walks along beside me as I ride, making sure all is in control, and I smile to myself, warmed by his attention.
I remember … many years ago, when I took my son and his sister to Key West, Florida, and we decided to go scuba diving. Not a particularly strong swimmer, I was feeling a bit anxious as we prepared to jump from the boat into the deep ocean water—but I was determined to give my kids this new experience.
He sensed my jitters. My son swam beside me that entire stretch to the coral reef, and when my breathing got a little fast inside the scuba equipment, somehow he always sensed it, and I would feel my boy’s hand lightly touch my back at that precise moment to offer reassurance. It worked. Having him near, feeling his lightest touch when I was about to panic … my son made the deep dive possible for me. It was an adventure to remember. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Now, I see him walking in circles, following my progress, calling out to me to up the speed a notch, but only if I am comfortable … and I up it by two.
As I step off the mower, I remember this is how he taught me to roller blade, too, close by, following, releasing, encouraging, reassuring. It has been our symbiotic relationship—mother and son, taking turns teaching each other what each us knows best.
Throughout the evening, he adjusts things in my house. Gets them just right. Or even if nothing is needed, he checks it all out. We talk about other items on my list that he will help me cross off in future visits. I could use help putting up a chicken wire fence around my vegetable garden. The cottage on the hill could use some cleaning up. We walk through the barn and talk about future renovations as I dream out loud about turning part of it into a guest house.
“I should get a chain saw,” I ponder out loud. “Those dead branches on that tree there …”
“Sure. You have some extra chains in the tool shed. Must have been a saw around here before.”
I could do such things alone. I know I could. Left to myself, I have found over time that there is little I can’t accomplish once I put my mind and some muscle to it. But my son’s guidance and lessons and helpful hands leave me warm inside, feeling his love, as I hope he will feel mine when he returns to his life. A woman can do most anything a man can do, and a man can do most anything a woman can do, and my son has inherited my fierce drive for independence, doing for oneself … but as I lean my head for a moment against his muscled shoulder, I feel how good it is, just for a moment, to let go and let someone else extend a helping hand. Let go, and let someone take care of me for a moment. Let go, and let my son be the grown man in whom I feel ever growing pride, and know how useful he is to me, and how much I care that he cares.
Z Acres feels even more like home tonight. It knows family.