I recently had the wonderful experience of reading the lyrics of a song at my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding. It was called the “Attics of my life”. It was a Grateful Dead
song. It entered my mind as I was pondering my day, and the stuff I’m going through. This “stuff” that I am sorting is from the attics of my life, and I have am guilty of having a very big attic that is quite full.
Today, I found a card from a very dear friend, Caren, who thanked me for being faithful and caring for 40 years. That card meant a great deal to me. Yesterday I found an envelope with my father’s handwriting, addressed to me — and I can’t throw the envelope away. It contained a little book he sent me when I was going through a difficult time. He put a note inside it, saying that one person can make a difference, and that I would be ok. Now, years later, I am ok–better than ok–and I truly know that I make a difference. That book is in my kitchen. The envelope stays and can’t get thrown away, and my attic is not that much lighter after going through those boxes.
But that’s ok.
I will be spending this summer, and probably next summer, still cleaning the attics of my life. I thought it would be easier because a lot of time had passed, and for some things it is. I can open a box and it may have tampons, which I certainly don’t need anymore, and a comb, which I have been known to put wax paper on and break out in spontaneous song. However, it will also have a card, and an envelope with special handwriting that I will always recognize, or a certificate–like the one my son earned, the “Great Thinker” award, in elementary school. I still have the macaroni necklace from one of my most cherished students, Christian, who wanted to marry me. He was 5 years old. I was 40 something. On a particularly hot day, he watched me putting my hair up to get it off my neck. He told me that I was very pretty. He had just come to his piano lesson bearing gifts of chocolate, flowers, and a card. After receiving this wonderful shower of attention, I told him that someday he would make someone a very wonderful husband….and he said, “I’m not going to marry anybody else….I’m going to marry you”. The following week, he came in and he told me that his brothers had informed him that he couldn’t marry me, because my name was Mrs. Sherman and I was already married. I told him that I wasn’t – that I was divorced. A little smile came on his face, and then he asked, “So does the age difference matter?”
It’s 2 a.m. and I’m thinking of these stories, and the attics of my life are a little restless tonight. Thoughts of Christian, my dad, and Caren are making me feel more than ok. I’m feeling very content and very blessed. Although the attics of my life may be full, right now, as I slowly sort and clean them out, I still realize that this is an important thing for me to do. Many people have suggested that I just chuck the boxes, because I hadn’t opened them in years, didn’t know what was inside, and wouldn’t miss it. I can’t do that. I want to find the envelope, like finding buried treasure, that bears my dad’s handwriting, and I love my macaroni necklace. Whoever loves me, for the time being, has to deal with my stuff–either the macaroni necklace hangs on my bureau, or I keep these stories alive and I keep telling them, so I don’t loose them.
It is the end of the school year, and it is crazy and bittersweet with a tad of trepidation. There are 10 weeks ahead of me to muddle through, financially, emotionally, and spiritually, as I face the summer and changes that may come, aka The Unknown. I haven’t had so much unplanned time since I was a teenager. I managed to fill my time then, and have never known boredom, and I know I will fill it now.
A reoccurring image from this week has been swirling around in my mind. I am going to try to settle it. It is one of unworn shoes. I first noticed them on a student in one of my classes. She was in a wheelchair, and her pressed and pleated pants never seemed to get dirty, and her shoes looked brand new. I had to realize that they probably weren’t. I started to notice many of the shoes and sneakers of the children in wheelchairs, and thought about how little, if ever, their treads hit the ground. While traveling miles in their chairs and in vehicles, their shoes never get dirty. If, by chance, they are one of the students who may occasionally be upright in a walker, I doubt they are jumping in puddles or walking on a newly mowed lawn. There are no mud stains or grass stains on these sneakers. Many of the sneakers were sadly, pristine…
And then I noticed Kara’s.
Kara is a private piano student of mine. She has been, for over 10 years. When I first met Kara, I was told she had been the victim of an accident. She had been hit by a car when she was 17. She didn’t walk, speak, or use both of her hands. We love to tell people that “when she started, she used one finger and now she uses 10”. It’s a fairly accurate statement. She also didn’t speak, but one day she came and wanted me to play a CD she had brought with her. It was Michael Buble. I don’t remember much about the song, except that the chorus repeated the word “Love” over and over. When Michael got to the chorus, Kara started singing. It was the first time I heard her voice. She and I also joke about the fact that she hasn’t stopped talking since.
Kara has amazing perseverance and determination. She has fought everything that might have been considered limitations. Now, at 34 years old, she is walking into my house for her piano lessons. She decorated a walker for herself that has pink tiger patterned duct tape and turquoise fuzz on it, and even has a bicycle bell. She comes in, chats, plays…..and even has tried karaoke. She is amazingly happy, 99% of the time. The 1% she’s not, she has a good reason to be so. I mention her happiness as being amazing because there was a time when she was not as happy. Then, if I asked her a question and she didn’t want to bother to answer me (in some way, with some kinds of assisted communication), she would simply look the other way…..with a bit of a scowl on her face. What ever I asked was not worth her energy to answer. Hmmmph. I know that is what she must have been thinking. I’m glad that now, she can explain that she was frustrated with her lack of ease trying to communicate. I can maybe reassure myself that it wasn’t me, and my ridiculous question.
So….Kara’s sneakers are now getting dirty. Cool. I’m so glad. She comes when it is raining and will come when I’ve just mowed the lawn. She may even wear this pair out! She now goes to the gym, has gotten highlights and contacts, and there is no stopping her!
I am going to take out my own shoes, make sure I wear them, or donate them to someone who will. I will never feel the same way about unworn shoes.
There are times I sit down to write when I know I have been composing in my mind for days….perhaps even weeks and months…and yet haven’t committed my thoughts to a page. Today, I feel like I have been writing so many different chapters in my mind simultaneously that it is an odd challenge to try to connect them all.
I have thoughts about Henry, my pet and companion. I have thoughts about my son and new daughter-in- law and how lovely it is to even type those words. Last week was their wedding, and it was indeed the most perfect wedding I have ever been to.
I have thoughts about my friends and lovers, past and present, and my career….my home….my time….my money.
These things are floating around like the fluff of a dandelion, sometimes twirling, sometimes landing, sometimes even sprouting new growth. They are pretty and delicate and sometimes a bit pesky. My yard….and my head….are full of them. In my yard, the dandelions close up at night, waiting to pop open in the morning. In my head, the dandelions come out and play with each other at night– dancing in my dreams. Sometimes, people from my past are hanging in the hallway near the door of the ever present class I am always late for. Sometimes, I am trying to get home, but I forgot where home is–and, of course, in my dreams, I am late and carrying too much stuff. I’m tripping over dandelions.
Humor me while I digress….
Are dandelions a weed or a flower? I always thought the spring yellow was pretty and I thought blowing on them was like wishing on a candle. But my grandmother cooked them (giving her sustenance after the harsh winter) and more than one friend of mine cursed them for popping up in their yards–stinkin’ weeds, they said. I picked them and excitedly make my first bouquets of dandelions and little “bluettes”, knowing that the dandelions would wilt soon after being picked but come back when placed in water. Those were probably the first gifts I gave my mother and grandmother, and I thought they were special. My hands always smelled a little funky after picking them, and right at this moment, I can so recall the scent.
I am taking a break from mowing my lawn on a wonderful spring afternoon. Memorial Day weekend–the kickoff of the summer. I am thinking about gatherings in my yard and celebrations and Memorial weekends past. I am thinking about friends and lovers and ex’s and flowers….and weeds.
Henry is teaching me. He is making me think. How else can I begin to justify the time spent observing him, imagining his human condition? He was lost…far from Australia. acclimated to Rhode Island, but unable to tell me his story. I have to make it up.
He was found wandering around in a parking lot. My son, who knew I had taken in more than one such bird, brought him to me to care for. And, although I cared for him very much, creating a new home for him and trying to discover his likes and dislikes, I clearly was not his favorite person. Bob was. He bonded with Bob, and Bob pretended to be a pirate…with a parrot he named Henry. Cockatiels mate for life, and maybe for Henry, he was all set. He was very content. No reason to look any further. He spent hours on Bob’s shoulder while taking sustenance from me. Bob became his perspective of his new world, as he perched on his shoulder and took in our routine.
And then Bob was gone. Henry was a bit lost. He even appeared to mourn. My patience in trying to connect with him was not reciprocated or even the least bit appreciated. His mirror became his best friend.
Time passed and a new man, his apparent gender preference, came into his life. There must have been something about Jack. His voice….his gentle approach…his presence that only another Aussie might have sensed. Henry once again, bonded. He seemed to want to explore Jack. Crawl on his arm…preen his hair and beard…even seek him out in the relative vastness of his home outside his cage. And as he found Jack to be safe, he explored other people….other places in the house–imagine all of the bird perches that framed each window where the curtains once hung! Even at this moment, he is sitting on my iPad as I type. How bold he has seemed to become.
Yet, yesterday, I was showing a student (who asked about if cockatiels could talk) a youtube video of another cockatiel. Henry was in a nearby alcove, but not in the room. When he heard the other cockatiel’s chirping, he not only responded immediately, he moved about, rapidly searching for its source. I was amazed, because all of my windows were open and our home was filled with the constant songs of the neighborhood birds….Yet, something touched him when he heard another cockatiel. The hard-wiring of his little bird brain was triggered and it needed no thought or analysis. Someone else spoke his language. How wonderful
I have made constant comparisons since then to Henry and me. My thoughts about my “green hand club”–walking around your whole life with a green hand that no one else understands but another person with a green hand. But that is still not that same as Henry’s hard wiring. This amazing bird. And we have found each other and have so much to share.
Like bonding for life is sometimes “just a good time for a short time”. Or you really know when someone gets you…..you know who you can trust and who believes in you. Life is short–go for the treats. Birds of a feather…….
And Henry and I will muddle through. I may not be his mate for life but I am his friend and caretaker, and I understand his loss. He doesn’t need to speak to me. And he can try to fill the hole with Jim or Peter or Dennis or Ken… but I have a feeling no other man will do. That’s ok. He’s a simple bird, and he has found pleasure in exploring and nibbling new things. Good enough.
There’s a bird in me, flying at times, and I think I am learning much from this moment. I don’t need to fly….I just need to know I can.