Darkness and Light

My mom sent a photo. It’s hard even to think of my parents as senior citizens, though I am nearly one myself. The image shows participants in a charity race on a bright day, and front and center are my dad and my mom, both reflecting the sun, smiling and looking well…astoundingly so. They are eighty.

I do worry about my aging parents, far away from me. For them, I hold the thought that theirs will be a long, fulfilling sunset to their lives, already well-lived. Their richest blessings are one another, and of that they are keenly aware.

My older children are forging paths into their own trees, mountains, and skies. Their fleeting journeys here with me have evolved to include other pursuits, and I am here, hoping that they know what they stand for, and how deeply they are loved.

Those still at home are my reasons to be here, too, right now, when the days, arduous as often they are, turn quickly to years.

Aaron is sick. From his earliest days, he was the one to get pneumonia when the others had a sniffle. Still, at nearly ten, he seems to be hit hardest by these seasonal bugs. A sore throat, fever, and chills (“shimmers”, as he calls them) kept him (and me) from the last game of his fall baseball season, where his team played for the championship. I can hear him now, breathing erratically and talking about dragons, as he has fallen into a restless sleep.

I worry that I will not be enough for all of these people to whom I have been entrusted as messenger. On the days where I fall short of keeping up, where even the thought of tearing down the mountain of legos or moving the discarded socks and sweatshirts to the laundry basket overwhelms me, it is then that I try to remind myself that it’s just a day, one day, and that I will have a chance again tomorrow.

I worry that we will die before we are done living, but I suppose that most people do.

It seemed a grand idea, to offer newborn chicks to my broody hen, in order to satisfy her mothering instincts and free her from months of occupying an empty nest. It shouldn’t matter that the nighttime temperatures were near freezing. Chicken Bernadette would keep her new babies safe and warm. We wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with the risk of having more roosters. These were rare breed female chicks, shipped to the local post office directly from my favorite hatchery.

Aaron had a break in his fever when the call came; within half an hour, we were in the coop, opening the box and introducing the babies to their new family. Maybe it was just a little reminiscent of the days when I would hurry to the DCFS office to be entrusted with a tiny someone, for whatever reason, for however long.

One of the babies did not look well. She was cold and barely responsive. We put her in the nest along with the other babies, and we hoped for the best through the darkness.

It was a wakeful night. When I opened the coop at sunrise, Bernadette was still perched proudly on the nest. Two hours later, three of the babies were dead.

Aaron’s fever would break and rise, more rhythmic than his breathing. Every chance I had, I checked the coop. The last little chick’s peep sounds reassured me that all was not lost; mother hen Bernadette was tending to her baby.

At dusk, when I went to close the doors and to see that all of the chickens were tucked in for the night, I came upon the baby chick, who lay motionless outside the coop entrance. Bernadette was roosting with some of the other birds. Did she leave her baby out in the cold to die? Did I?

There’s heartbreak in chicken keeping.

There’s heartbreak in parenting.

There’s heartbreak in living.

It’s okay. It’s okay, even when it’s not, because when it’s not, we are probably not thinking of it.

As parents, we try. Sometimes we aren’t enough. Sometimes we can’t be.

I don’t know if I will sleep any better tonight. Aaron is restless, and his fever seems relentless. He is so hot and so cold at the same time. Soon, though, it will be spring again, and he will lace his cleats before heading to the field. There will be new baby chicks at the farm: rare breeds, from the hatchery, but also, perhaps, a feisty young rooster that hatched from a broody hen, if that’s what was meant to be.

My big kids will have new plans.

My parents will see more sunrises and sunsets, together.

I will know that the day holds, maybe not the best or easiest lesson, but the right lesson, for me, for this day.

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The Purple Couch

If ever you were a visitor to our family at the house on the hill near the university, the Third Street bungalow, or our current homestead, you sat on the purple couch, or, at the very least, took note of its presence.

The purple couch was like an old friend. It accepted us, its people, where we were, with our dirty baseball cleats, fevers, and bad attitudes. It has been sat upon by State of Illinois caseworkers, librarians, hundreds of children, and a chicken.

I nursed my last birth son well into toddlerhood on that couch. I spent the night there with a mug of chamomile tea after disagreeing with a seafood salad from a local sandwich shop. My children lined up on the cushions through nearly two decades for our annual Christmas photo. I sat there waiting for my teenagers to return from first dates and movie nights, and I sunk into the plush purple pillows with my tissues in hand, bracing myself for a good cry as I watched my almost-grown children close the door behind them, crossing the threshold to seek what their futures held for them.

We first spotted the purple couch in all its magnificent glory showcased in a lifestyle magazine in an advertisement for flooring. Much to my great delight, a mom-and-pop furniture store in a neighboring town was able to special order the purple couch.

It arrived on a truck just as promised, with five loose back cushions and two throw pillows which, when folded just right, were the perfect support for holding a sleeping little one (or twenty). Over time, all seven pillows have morphed into somewhat lumpier versions of themselves, having had many runs through the washing machine, and having actually spent more time on the floor than on the couch as intended. Our next couch, I swear, will not have removable cushions.

Over the years, the couch aged gracefully…until recently. In addition to the hairy and puffy cats that we have had over the years, all of whom seemed to prefer this couch as the best nap spot, we added a dog: an old one that loves to roll on fabric things and sheds in the process. The purple couch became his favorite place; this only added to the charm and personality of this beloved piece of furniture.

To some, it was just a couch. Others have fond memories of what this couch meant to them:

“It was a very comfortable couch. It looked good under the painting in the old house, with the green couch (which, also, is now just a fond memory),” recalled one frequent visitor.

One son remembers being bullied by an older brother’s friend, and being told: “you are what you eat, and you eat poo.” He said that he then sat on the purple couch which gave him comfort and made him feel better.

“I liked it. I loved it. It was amazing,” offered another.

In later years, the purple couch began to stab us in the back, not intentionally, but because the cushions were always strewn about, and because the wood and springs were gradually wearing through the fine purple fabric which had so many memories woven into its threads.

“I want a black leather couch. To replace it,” chimed one small son who perhaps didn’t fully appreciate what the purple couch stood for.

And then: “it smells like a butt. And bad feet.”

Oh. No.

What about the wedding? How could we replace the purple couch before the wedding, when it had borne witness to so many other celebratory moments with us, it’s family? Should we take it to the burn pile? That was a heartbreaking thought, but, after all, it smelled bad.

After a little online research, out came the baking soda and the vacuum cleaner, followed by a thorough essential oil spritz. The cushions went through the laundry. Guests to the morning-after wedding brunch sat on the purple couch, and I don’t think anyone suspected a thing. It had seen our family through another rite of passage, and it had served us well.

Soon after the big day, its freshness faded with the wedding flowers, and we knew it was time.

I just couldn’t bear to think of all those years of life lived going up in flames. I decided to try passing it along on a social media marketplace site. But why would anyone want the purple couch? How could they not? How could we not? We did, but…it was just time.

While cleaning out the purple couch, I found a fork, a whole lot of legos, and two phones.

Within the course of a few hours after posting the ad, which apologetically offered a well-used candidate for a college apartment or basement, seven locals expressed interest in the purple couch. One by one, appointments were set, and excuses were made.

“I wasn’t able to get the truck.”

“It’s too big.”

“I forgot that I had to work.”

“Go on to the next person.”

Until it came to the polite lady at the end of the list: “yes! I will be there soon!”

Within about ten minutes, she appeared on the front porch, where the purple couch was already waiting for her. She was so gracious and grateful. As our husbands strapped the couch to the roof of her vehicle, she shared that just a short time ago, she had lost most of her possessions in a fire. She was so happy to have a couch again, and it was so ready for its new adventures.

We rolled out our forty dollar estate sale find from the extra bedroom into the living room to stand in place of the purple couch. It was never intended as a replacement, for no one couch could ever hold as much meaning within its cushions. But we needed somewhere to sit.

People that come to the farm for the first time will never know about the purple couch. The lady that came for it sent a photo of two of her cats resting comfortably on the purple couch. It makes me wonder, just a little bit…did we act too soon?

The legacy of our beloved couch carries on. At our home, it had enabled teenage romance and supported my coffee habit. It had been the seat of numerous video game battles, a retreat for grieving children who had come through our doors bearing burdens deep within their souls, and simply a place to just rest with one’s feet up.

The purple couch was not ready to go up in flames. We have trusted it with our secrets, which we know it will not share. It has room to hold another family with more animals, more butts, and more bad feet.

We love you, purple couch, and we will always miss you, though we are kind of glad you are gone.

XO

Photo Credit: EMILY STRATTON