Tuesday, October 09, 2007

twenty down

"How could I prepare myself for an absence the size of you?" ~unknown poet

"Make him a rhubarb pie," my cousin, Tracy, suggested. I'd asked him what his father might like for his 64th birthday. "He hasn't had rhubarb in ages, and that's his favorite."

So early that morning, I followed Tracy's directions and pulled into the parking lot of a market in Newport Beach, California. I probably should mention that Tracy and I had only just been reunited after a 26-year separation. I'd been staying in his home for two days, trying to catch up and reconnect. I hadn't yet seen his father, Phil, but at the business Phil and Tracy built (Wet Okole ... they make really amazing custom seat covers), a potluck was being thrown to celebrate Phil's birthday. If I could get my hands on a pound of rhubarb, I'd get busy making a crumble pie.

Maneuvering past a forklift and around a pile of produce crates, I stepped over a mound of rejected corn husks and broccoli stems and wove my way into the market. Twenty pairs of dark brown eyes fastened on me, until one man said, in thick English (and not nicely), "We're not open. Come back at 10:00."

It was 8:00. I needed those two hours to chop, coat, dot, pat and bake. "Is this the only place where I can get fresh rhubarb?" I asked, not liking the desperation in my voice, but not knowing how to expel it. "I really need to make a pie."

The barker hesitated, sighed, and asked (again, not in a very nice way), "How much do you want?"

"Just a pound."

He sighed again to make sure I knew how awful I was, and then said, "I'll sell you a pound." And then, fearing he might look soft in front of the other corn peelers, he raised his voice a notch. "You wait over there!"

I obeyed. And I almost didn't say anything when he brought back three pounds of rhubarb. "It's going to cost a lot," he warned. I had to agree when the total came to $11.

"I ... uh ... only need one pound."

I think if he knew the English words for ungrateful, unappreciative, or stingy, he would have used them. Instead, he just glared and thrust half the red stalks to the side. I paid for my 1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, hurdled and darted my way through the fruit and veggie obstacle course, and hurried back to Tracy's.

Once in his kitchen (and I have to say, I have never enjoyed cooking anywhere as much as I enjoyed cooking in that expansive, seldom-used, all-for-me space), I set to work. As I was assembling all my ingredients, Tracy's houseguest, Dennis, came home and set his keys on the counter. "What's up?" he asked.

With my laptop on the counter and a playlist blaring at top volume, and Dennis and I chatting away about things both significant and not, I almost managed to keep my thoughts on September 28th, 2007. Almost. But while washing the red and green rhubarb stalks, my thoughts kept drifting to September 28th, 1987. I made roast beef, potatoes and gravy the night before, and dished some up, and brought it to her house ....

Scooping a cup of sugar, a couple of spoonfuls of flour, and a dash of salt in a bowl, I began blending it with my fingers. I then broke an egg into the bowl and began smooshing it together. But she never answered the door ...

A quick slice through the length of the first stalk, then another, and then I began chopping it in tiny chunks. I left the food on her doorstep, and drove to the school to get ready for my class ...

More chopping. Dump each pile into the egg and flour mixture. Stir. And when they called to tell me she had killed herself, all I could think was, "How am I supposed to live another 50 years without her?"

I didn't tell Dennis about the anniversary. And when I arrived at Wet Okole an hour and a half later, I said nothing to Tracy, either. We were here for a party.

"Come back and see my dad," Tracy said. I followed him through a doorway to a pair of desks--and there was Phil. Though more than 30 years had passed since I had seen him, I remembered liking him very much. And nothing had changed. His eyes were soft when he smiled. He held out his hand and I took it. And then he said, "You look like your mother ... she was a beautiful woman."

Phil took a big slice of rhubarb pie topped with fresh whipped cream, and thanked me. But the real gift had been his.

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13 Comment:

At 10/09/2007 4:18 PM, Blogger suzzanne had this to say ...

Oh, Shanny. I am so sorry for your loss. The grief sounds so fresh. As always, you made me cry.

At 10/09/2007 10:30 PM, Blogger Kim had this to say ...

Shanny, my heart just aches for you. I would love to have met your mom. Praying that God gives you extra comfort through this season. Love you. (((HUGS)))

At 10/10/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Julianne had this to say ...

Dear sister, I had no idea! My heart embraces you through prayer today. I know it has been a long time, but you never stop missing those you love dearly and truly need as part of your life. May the Lord's tender embrace be preciously evident to you, as He brought you words of comfort from Phil! God is so good!!!

Blessings to you dear sister!!!

At 10/10/2007 1:57 PM, Blogger Kari had this to say ...

What a coincidence. I just blogged about my own mother last night.

God is so good to meet us in our deepest need.

He fills (Phil's) the gaps, doesn't He?

Thanks for sharing.

At 10/10/2007 5:44 PM, Blogger Fran had this to say ...

My heart breaks for you every time I hear you talk about your mom. I never had the privelege of meeting your mom but I agree with Phil that you are beautiful (inside and out).

I love you.

At 10/13/2007 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/14/2007 5:42 PM, Blogger *~Tey~* had this to say ...

I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing with us. God Bless you this week!

At 10/15/2007 5:44 AM, Blogger Stephen had this to say ...


At 10/15/2007 8:30 PM, Blogger Susan Kelly Skitt had this to say ...

Shannon, beautifully written. It is so difficult to miss the ones we love. You are in my thoughts and prayers dear sister.

In Jesus' love,

At 10/18/2007 1:07 PM, Blogger Shannon had this to say ...

How kind you all are--thank you.

Suzzanne--two dates this year will be hard: this twentieth anniversary, and later in December when I will be the exact age she was when she died (46 plus 4 months plus 2 days ... does that make sense?) There's a real significance to that, and I will no doubt blog about it again. But God is good. The hurt is so much less now than it was in the beginning.

Kim and Fran--yes, you would have loved her. All my friends did. She was funny, sympathetic, and very warm-hearted.

Kari and Julianne--you said it exactly. I love when God works through another person to bring us the comfort we need. Phil had no idea he was being used to bless me that day. It just warmed me like you can't imagine.

Tey! I haven't seen you in awhile. So glad to know you're out there. Thanks for your kind words. Hope you're doing well!

Thank you for your prayer, Susan. You're a blessing.

Stephen! I didn't catch on to your "ahem" right away. But I see what it is. Thanks so much for the nomination! Glad to hear from you again, too.

At 10/20/2007 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/21/2007 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Kind and loving, yes. And maybe a little nostalgic. Would you mind deleting my previous post? I intended it to be anonymous (rookie blogger). Take care.

At 10/21/2007 10:28 PM, Blogger Shannon had this to say ...

For my anonymous commenter ... so sorry it took me so long to delete your first comment. I was out of town teaching at a women's retreat and just got home (and back online :). I would love to chat with you via email--if you feel so inclined, please write to me at: shannon(dot)woodward(at)gmail(dot)com.

Hope to talk with you! Thanks for the comment. :)


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