Though not exactly a historical scholar, I have always been drawn to things of the past. Four or five thrift and vintage stores are now part of our sleepy university city’s downtown. I found myself alone in the bustle, if even there is one, of the lunch hour, with a little time before I had to get my son from camp. There is a just-opened store in the first block of town, and I was startled by an unsettling bell as I, now distracted from my admiration of a hand-painted cast iron doorstop that would have been perfect for our bedroom at the farm, passed through the door. I would have preferred that nobody had known I was there, and then I could have continued my reverie.
“Can I help you find anything?” The woman’s voice was neither brazen nor friendly, neither shrill nor bellowing.
“I’m just looking, thank you,” I responded, being careful to avoid eye contact and invite further conversation.
What I may have said, though, is, “No”. No, I don’t think you can help me. I don’t think anyone can help me find what I am looking for. I don’t think you can help me find that clearing in the park near the conservatory, the one where we shared a picnic of grapes and muenster cheese with our toddlers who are now grown men and women. I don’t think you can help me spot my young twenty-four year-old husband as he returns to the train platform from his commute to the city. I don’t think you can save me a place on the bleachers where I can, just one last time, watch my son pitch a baseball. I don’t think you can tell me that they are all, in this moment, okay, and I don’t think you can help me find an afternoon where the shadows go into hiding, and where I can forget that we have taken on a lifelong search for the elusive.
I had just a few minutes left. I was looking for a mug, one like the one that proclaims “Always Drink Milk” that I had gotten for five dollars from a shop that no longer stands just a block from here, a shop that had treasures piled so high that I knew the shopkeeper must have been unaware of anything beyond the first layer. I always look for that mug, and three times so far I have found a similar one. It may be nothing special to anyone else, but it means something (what, I’m unsure), to me.
I do like milk.
My mind continued it’s plea to this woman: Please help me uncover the years; take me back to when I could drink coffee with my grandma, to the time before my friend lost her child, to when my college comrade was not facing an overwhelming diagnosis, to the days before my sons left me in the wake of their childhoods.
“Thanks for stopping in.” Her voice was the same, and I hadn’t found the mug. Not this time.
It wasn’t hard to sell our house this time around. It’s a beautiful home, and we hadn’t stopped loving it. It’s just that we found our farm, and it was time to go. I am fearful of walking through it for the last time, though I know I want to spend my remaining days on these acres, watching sunsets of violet, tangerine, and pink with my chickens, and with anyone else that will stand alongside me.
It was the only home where every child of mine, all twenty-three, lived for at least a short while. I will walk on the weathered oak floors for the last time, and I will remember. I will remember when Juliet, then just a kitten, perched herself atop the bird cage and knocked it to the floor, startling the birds who flew frantically through the house and evaded me for hours as I tried to get the children out the door to school. I will remember kneading bread with little ones, coloring Easter eggs at the kitchen table, keeping vigil at the bedside of sick children, listening to the sounds of Sam’s ukelele, and playing catch in the backyard. I will remember hurt, but I will also remember great joy. I will hear the music of their younger years.
Tears are for missing, and we pine for not just the good, but also the hard, for that, too, has made us what we are and has brought us to today.
There were bright lights that flashed against the brick, hosting a carnival of chaos and having no mercy in the dark hours of an August eve. The sirens were loud, and they startled into my very being as the chocolate chip cookies burned on the tin. There were screams, tears, and sleepless nights. There were calls when we should have been tucked in bed, strange voices, sounds of fear, and doors opening before dawn.
There were balloons, presents, and all sorts of things to celebrate. There were questions without answers, and paths that didn’t really make sense. There was a whole lot of life that happened in that house on Third Street, or “Bird Street”; the autocorrect on my friend’s message would always make me laugh until my stomach hurt.
We met as foster parents, and our friendship was fast. We took placements of each other’s children’s siblings when we had no room at our own homes. She brought me chocolate when I was sad (and no one else knew). She even climbed through a window when we were out of town to make sure the cat had enough food. It made perfect sense that her family would move to our Third Street house when we left for the farm.
It may have been easier to see her children swinging on the trees where my children had played. She could have tended my roses and hydrangeas and picked grapes from the arbor that Dan had built. Her children would have warmed their fingers and toes by the fireplace that brought such warmth to the winter evenings.
Maybe that would have made it easier, but that’s not what happened. Someone else is going to move there. I guess it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s just supposed to happen.
When we give up the keys at the end of next month, we will be closing that chapter, only to continue another that has already begun.
When I have time to go downtown again, I will still be looking for my milk mug. I will probably always be looking for a milk mug, not because I have nothing to drink from, but because I am reminded that my cup is already full, full of life through the trials and the blessings alike.
I think my friend drinks milk, too.