A good mother-in-law is worth holding onto, but you can only hold on for so long.
AFTER I HEAR the news
that she is failing –
vital signs all higher or lower
than what they ought to be
I finish the dishes,
get out a skein of yarn,
my size 8 knitting needles
and instructions for an ear warmer
I’ve been wanting to make,
and begin a trip down memory lane
that extends back 40 years,
back to when we first met,
back before I had children,
back before I was married or even engaged,
back to when my hair was auburn.
I go back
to the times
we sat together
and talked over knitting needles –
her fingers flying, always working on something interesting,
and me, slow as molasses and left-handed to boot,
trying to figure things out.
Cable stitches, for example.
I learned the basics of knitting in the Brownies,
but she is the first person I know
who makes useful things,
which is what I want to be in the world.
* * *
I WISH I’D TAKEN a PICTURE of her Thanksgiving weekend,
how she looked,
just back from the hairdresser’s,
wearing a shirt so crisp
it looked fresh out of the package.
“Just some old thing I’ve had for years,” she said.
I need to stop thinking
how I didn’t get that shot when I had the chance,
not wanting to take her picture too much,
like I was always expecting it to be the last.
* * *
IN the SPRING of ’74
I walk into her screenroom
and find her taking down
her Christmas tree
turned Valentine’s tree
turned St. Patrick’s Day tree
turned Easter tree.
The tree has been up for 4 months.
I don’t know anyone who’s done this before,
but I think it’s so cool.
“Sal?” I say….because we didn’t yet call her Gram.
And when I don’t answer right away,
she looks up at me.
“I’m . . . going to have a baby!” I say,
and she throws her arms around me.
* * *
WE LEFT HOME at 5 this morning
and arrived at her house at noon.
She puts me to shame,
her house completely decked out
well….I haven’t quite gotten around to it.
I admire her collection,
a life’s worth,
and take a picture of the musical angel
she says Wally gave her
when he was 8 years old.
* * *
AFTER THE HOSPICE CHAPLAIN comes and goes,
and the visiting nurse,
after we chat a good while
and eat the early supper
brought in a cooler from Ohio and reheated,
after she has her meds
and the men get busy
working on something in another part of the house,
we sit together in the living room –
her, working a word search puzzle,
me, working on the ear warmer I’ve started.
The rhythmic hum
of the oxygen machine,
like a metronome,
sets a beat
my knitting needles can’t keep up with,
but there’s no hurry.
Time has been suspended.
All the shared years
are somehow present at once in the room.
She dozes off,
I slip a stitch,
purl to the end,
begin the next row,
and it all seems right and peaceful,